Carey Gillam, Environmental Health News, October 11, 2017
Editor’s note: The below piece is excerpted from Carey Gillam’s new book Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, published by Island Press.
For many people, a toasted bagel topped with honey might sound like a healthy breakfast choice. Others might prefer a bowl of oatmeal or cornflakes or a hot plate of scrambled eggs. Few would likely welcome a dose of weed killer that has been linked to cancer in their morning meal.
Yet that is exactly what private laboratory tests in the United States started showing with alarming frequency in 2014: residues of the world’s most widely used herbicide were making their way into American meals.
Testing since then, by both private and public researchers, has shown glyphosate residues not only in bagels, honey, and oatmeal but also in a wide array of products that commonly line grocery store shelves, including flour, eggs, cookies, cereal and cereal bars, soy sauce, beer, and infant formula.
Indeed, glyphosate residues are so pervasive that they’ve been found in human urine. Livestock are also consuming these residues in grains used to make their feed, including corn, soy, alfalfa and wheat.
The United States allows among the highest levels of glyphosate residues, which critics say underscores the level of influence Monsanto has with regulators.
Glyphosate residues have been detected in bread samples in the United Kingdom for years, as well as in shipments of wheat leaving the United States for overseas markets. “Americans are consuming glyphosate in common foods on a daily basis,” the Alliance for Natural Health said in its April 2016 report, which revealed glyphosate residues detected in eggs and coffee creamer, bagels and oatmeal.
In North Dakota, an agronomist at the state university, Joel Ransom, became so curious about glyphosate residue that in 2014 he ran his own tests on flour samples from the region. North Dakota grows much of America’s hard red spring wheat, a type that is considered the aristocrat of wheat and carries the highest protein content of all classes of American wheat.
It is used to make some of the world’s finest yeast breads, hard rolls, and bagels. But growing the wheat and bringing a healthy crop to harvest is not always easy in a state known for cold and damp conditions. To make harvesting the crop easier, many North Dakota farmers spray their wheat crops directly with glyphosate to help dry the plants a week or so before they roll out their combines. The practice is also common in Saskatchewan, across the border in Canada. So when Ransom ran his tests on flour samples from the area, including flour from Canada, he expected to find some samples with glyphosate. He certainly did not expect all of them to have glyphosate residues. But they did.
Since at least the 1960s, world food and health experts have sought to gauge how much of a pesticide can be ingested on a daily basis—an “acceptable daily intake” (ADI)—over a lifetime without any noteworthy health risk.
The United States allows among the highest levels of glyphosate residues, which critics say underscores the level of influence Monsanto has with regulators. The EPA even has gone so far as to say that safety margins called for by law to protect children from pesticide exposures could be reduced when it comes to glyphosate.
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