This article was published the Guardian on April 30, 2018
By Carey Gillam
US government scientists have detected a weedkiller linked to cancer in an array of commonly consumed foods, emails obtained through a freedom of information request show.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing food samples for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in hundreds of widely used herbicide products, for two years, but has not yet released any official results.
But the internal documents obtained by the Guardian show the FDA has had trouble finding any food that does not carry traces of the pesticide.
“I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount in all of them,” FDA chemist Richard Thompson wrote to colleagues in an email last year regarding glyphosate. Thompson, who is based in an FDA regional laboratory in Arkansas, wrote that broccoli was the only food he had “on hand” that he found to be glyphosate-free.
That internal FDA email, dated January 2017, is part of a string of FDA communications that detail agency efforts to ascertain how much of the popular weedkiller is showing up in American food. The tests mark the agency’s first-ever such examination…
Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, by Carey Gillam (Island Press) has been named an Outstanding Book of the Year by the Independent Book Publisher Awards.
“Hard-hitting, eye-opening narrative…A forceful argument for an agricultural regulatory environment that puts public interest above corporate profits.” Kirkus Reviews
“This is a must-read for everyone concerned about the increasing burden of toxic chemicals in water and food, the health and environmental consequences thereof, and corporate influence on government agencies.” Booklist
“Gillam expertly covers a contentious front where corporate malfeasance intersects with issues of public health and ecology.” Publishers Weekly
“a gutsy, compelling read from beginning to end, especially for readers who enjoy the kind of hard-nosed, shoe-leather reporting that used to be the hallmark of great journalism.” Society for Environmental Journalists BookShelf
“well-documented compendium of wrongs, fraud, conflicts of interest, undue influence, and troubling forms of plain old [PR]….Some of its revelations are downright infuriating.“ Los Angeles Review of Books
See also: Carey Gillam’s testimony before a joint committee of the European Parliament on 10/11/2017 and her reporting from the Daubert Hearings in the Cancer Victims Vs. Monsanto glyphosate litigation.
It’s the pesticide on our dinner plates, a chemical so pervasive it’s in the air we breathe, our water, our soil, and even found increasingly in our own bodies. Known as Monsanto’s Roundup by consumers, and as glyphosate by scientists, the world’s most popular weed killer is used everywhere from backyard gardens to golf courses to millions of acres of farmland. For decades it’s been touted as safe enough to drink, but a growing body of evidence indicates just the opposite, with research tying the chemical to cancers and a host of other health threats.
In Whitewash, veteran journalist Carey Gillam uncovers one of the most controversial stories in the history of food and agriculture, exposing new evidence of corporate influence. Gillam introduces readers to farm families devastated by cancers which they believe are caused by the chemical, and to scientists whose reputations have been smeared for publishing research that contradicted business interests. Readers learn about the arm-twisting of regulators who signed off on the chemical, echoing company assurances of safety even as they permitted higher residues of the pesticide in food and skipped compliance tests. And, in startling detail, Gillam reveals secret industry communications that pull back the curtain on corporate efforts to manipulate public perception.
Whitewash is more than an exposé about the hazards of one chemical or even the influence of one company. It’s a story of power, politics, and the deadly consequences of putting corporate interests ahead of public safety.
Publication date October 2017
More Praise for Whitewash
“The book unravels a tapestry of pesticide industry tricks to manipulate the scientific truths about their products while placing profits above human health and the environment. As someone who has experienced similar actions by corporations firsthand in my work far too often, I am hopeful that Carey’s book will be a wake-up call for more transparency about the dangers surrounding many chemicals in the marketplace.” Erin Brockovich, environmental activist and author
Carey Gillam has brilliantly assembled the facts and describes how Monsanto and other agricultural chemical companies lied about their products, covered up the damaging data and corrupted government officials in order to sell their toxic products around the world. David Schubert, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute For Biological Studies
Carey Gillam is a brave warrior in the mold of Rachel Carson. She has exposed the ruthless greed and fraud which have led to the poisoning of our planet. Brian G.M. Durie, M.D. Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation, oncology specialist and attending physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
In the grand tradition of Silent Spring, Carey Gillam’s Whitewash is a powerful exposé that sheds light on a chemical that — to most of us — is both entirely invisible and yet profoundly damaging to our bodies and our environment. It is a deeply researched, entirely convincing exposé of the politics, economics and global health consequences implicit in the spread of the world’s most common herbicide. Gillam has done what all great journalists strive to do: she has made us see clearly what has long been right before our eyes. Highly recommended. McKay Jenkins, author, Professor of English, Journalism and Environmental Humanities at the University of Delaware
Carey Gillam is an investigative journalist and award-winning author who spent 17 years on the food and agriculture beat for Reuters. Gillam is now research director of the consumer and public health watchdog group U.S. Right to Know. These remarks were delivered Oct. 11, 2017 before a joint public hearing on “The Monsanto Papers and Glyphosate” before the European Parliament committees on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety; and Agriculture and Rural Development.
Decades of Deceit: How Corporate Influence Has Manipulated Science and Safety Assessments on Glyphosate
Revelations from the Monsanto Papers and Other Research
Good morning – I am an investigative journalist, someone who has spent 30 years focusing on facts, pursuing truth. And having spent roughly 20 of those 30 years delving into the dealings of Monsanto I can confidently tell you that the story of the company’s top selling chemical, glyphosate, is not one of truth, but one of deceit – carefully calculated and choreographed deceit. There is overwhelming evidence of attempts to deceive, and to do so in ways that manipulate the press and manipulate policy makers like you.
In my reporting role I – along with colleagues at U.S. Right to Know – have obtained thousands of documents from our US regulators as well as from US scientists who work at public universities, and these documents show clearly the long history of deception when it comes to presentation of glyphosate matters. In addition to those documents, we have now the thousands of pages of internal Monsanto emails, memos and other documents that make it clear beyond any doubt the efforts by this company to manipulate policy makers and members of the public.
You just heard panelists talk about the science. I’m here to share with you what the documents show about deception. We know from the documents that Monsanto has:
- Ghostwritten research papers that assert glyphosate safety for publication & regulatory review
- Provided alternative assessments for studies that Indicate harm; convinced regulators to discount evidence of safety problems
- Developed a network of European & U.S. scientists to push glyphosate safety message to regulators and lawmakers while appearing to be independent of industry
- Utilized public relations teams to ghostwrite articles and blogs that are posted using names of scientists who appear to be independent
- Formed front groups that work to discredit journalists and scientists who publicize safety concerns
- Provided EPA “talking points” to use if questioned by press about IARC classification
- Successfully pushed EPA to remove top independent epidemiologist from EPA Scientific Advisory Panel
- Enlisted 3 EPA officials to block a 2015 Glyphosate Review by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that Monsanto said would likely agree with IARC
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher, and writer with more than 25 years of experience covering corporate America, and a former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service. Her new book “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science” was just released by Island Press. Carey is also the research director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.
Carey Gillam’s new book is available now from Island Press: Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.
Gilliam’s Whitewash is a hard-hitting investigation into the most widely used agrichemical in history, based on 20 years of research and scores of internal industry documents. For decades glyphosate has been lauded as the chemical that’s “safe enough to drink,” but a growing body of scientific research ties glyphosate to cancers and a host of other health and environmental threats.
Whitewash is a “must-read,” says Booklist. Kirkus Reviews calls Whitewash a “hard-hitting, eye-opening narrative,” and a “forceful argument for an agricultural regulatory environment that puts public interest above corporate profits.”
Q: Carey, you’ve been reporting on pesticides and Monsanto for nearly 20 years. As a journalist, why was it important to write a book about the topic? Why now?
A: Health experts around the world recognize that pesticides are a big contributor to a range of health problems suffered by people of all ages, but a handful of very powerful and influential corporations have convinced policy makers that the risks to human and environmental health are well worth the rewards that these chemicals bring in terms of fighting weeds, bugs, or plant diseases. These corporations are consolidating and becoming ever more powerful, and are using their influence to push higher and higher levels of many dangerous pesticides into our lives, including into our food system. We have lost a much-needed sense of caution surrounding these chemicals, and Monsanto’s efforts to promote increased uses of glyphosate is one of the best examples of how this corporate pursuit of profits has taken priority over protection of the public.
Q: People may not be familiar with the term “glyphosate” or even “Roundup.” What is it? Why should people care?
A: Roundup herbicide is Monsanto’s claim to fame. Well before it brought genetically engineered crops to market, Monsanto was making and selling Roundup weed killer. Glyphosate is the active ingredient—the stuff that actually kills the weeds—in Roundup. Glyphosate is also now used in hundreds of other products that are routinely applied to farm fields, lawns and gardens, golf courses, parks, and playgrounds. The trouble is that it’s not nearly as safe as Monsanto has maintained, and decades of scientific research link it to a range of diseases, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Monsanto has known about these risks and worked very hard to hide them.
Monsanto has known about these risks and worked very hard to hide them while promoting more and more use. Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops are all built to encourage glyphosate use. The key genetic trait Monsanto has inserted into its GMO soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, and other crops is a trait that allows those crops to survive being sprayed directly with glyphosate. After Monsanto introduced these “glyphosate-tolerant” crops in the mid-1990s, glyphosate use skyrocketed. Like other pesticides used in food production, glyphosate residues are commonly found in food, including cereals, snacks, honey, bread, and other products.
Q: You write that Whitewash shows we’ve forgotten the lessons of Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. What do you mean by that?
A: Carson laid out the harms associated with indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, and she predicted the devastation they could and would bring to our ecosystems. She also accused the chemical industry of intentionally spreading disinformation about their products. Her book was a wake-up call that spurred an environmental movement and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. But over the decades since, the general population and certainly our politicians and regulators have clearly forgotten the need for caution and scrutiny in dealing with these pesticides and the companies that profit from them. You see a push by our political leaders for fewer regulations, for more unchecked use of glyphosate and other pesticides in our food production, while research about how these pesticides cause cancer, how they harm children’s brain development, and how they alter reproductive health all get pushed aside.
Q: You obtained industry communications and regulatory documents that reveal evidence of corporate influence in regulatory agencies like the EPA. Does the evidence you uncovered take on new significance in light of the current political climate in the US? How can people keep regulatory agencies accountable for working in the public’s best interest?
A: Yes, it’s quite clear that Monsanto and other corporate giants like Dow Chemical enjoy significant sway with regulators, the very people who are supposed to be protecting the public. The companies use their money and political power to influence regulatory decision- making as well as the scientific assessments within the regulatory agencies. If we consumers and taxpayers want to protect our children, our families, our future, we need to pay attention, educate ourselves on these issues, write and call our lawmakers, and support organizations working on our behalf to protect our health and environment. We need to be proactive on policies that protect the public, not the profits of giant corporations. Capitalism is great—the pursuit of wealth through a free marketplace provides much that is good, that is true. But when we let corporate profit agendas take precedence over the health and well- being of our people and our planet we’re sacrificing far too much.
Q: Monsanto attempted to censor and discredit you when you published stories that contradicted their business interests. What strategies can journalists—or scientists— employ when faced with this pushback? What are the stakes if they don’t?
A: Monsanto, and organizations backed by Monsanto, have certainly worked to undermine my work for many years. But I’m not alone; they’ve gone after reporters from an array of major news outlets, including the New York Times, as well as scientists, academics, and others who delve too deeply into the secrets they want to keep hidden. I see it as a badge of honor that Monsanto and others in the chemical industry feel threatened enough by our work to attack us. It’s certainly not easy, for journalists in particular, to challenge the corporate propaganda machine.
Reporters that go along with the game, repeat the talking points, and publish stories that support corporate interests are rewarded with coveted access to top executives and handed “exclusive” stories about new products or new strategies, all of which score them bonus points with editors. In contrast, reporters who go against the grain, who report on unflattering research, or who point out failures or risks of certain products often find they lose access to key corporate executives. The competition gets credit for interviews with top corporate chieftains while reporters who don’t play the game see their journalistic skills attacked and insulted and become the subject of persistent complaints by the corporate interests to their editors.
What can be done? Editors and reporters alike need to check their backbones, realize that the job of a journalist is to find the story behind the spin, to ask uncomfortable questions and to forge an allegiance only to truth and transparency. When we lose truthful independent journalism, when we’re only hearing what the powerful want heard, it’s assured that those without power will be the ones paying the price.
Q: You interviewed a huge number of people for this book, including scientists, farmers, and regulators. Is there a particular conversation or story that stands out to you?
A: I’ve interviewed thousands of people over my career, from very big-name political types to celebrities to every day men and women, and I find it’s always those who are most unassuming, those “regular folk” who grab my heart. In researching this book, the individual story that most resonated with me is that of Teri McCall, whose husband Jack suffered horribly before dying of cancer the day after Christmas in 2015. The McCall family lived a quiet and rather simple life, raising avocadoes and assorted citrus fruits on their Cambria, California farm, using no pesticides other than Roundup in their orchards. Jacks’ death from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer linked to glyphosate, fully devastated Teri and her children and grandchildren. She has shown so much grace and strength and she gave me so much of her time—and her tears—in telling me Jack’s story. She is a woman I truly admire.
Of course there are so many others I have learned from, who I feel for, including the scientists who have struggled to publish research, who have been censored or worse for their findings of harm associated with glyphosate and other pesticides. And farmers—I have so much regard for farmers generally, including each and every one interviewed for this book. The work they do to raise our food is incredibly challenging and they are on the front lines of the pesticide dangers every day.
Jaw-dropping is the best way to describe some of the documents I and others have uncovered.
Q: You’ve been immersed in this topic for years. Was there anything you found in the course of researching and writing this book that surprised you?
A: Jaw-dropping is the best way to describe some of the documents I and others have uncovered. Seeing behind the curtain, reading in their own words how corporate agents worked intentionally to manipulate science, to mislead consumers and politicians, was shocking. As a long-time journalist, I’m a bit of a hardened cynic. Still, the depth of the deception laid bare in these documents, and other documents still coming to light, is incredible.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from Whitewash?
A: A writer at the New York Times told me after reading Whitewash that she feared eating anything in her refrigerator because of the information the book provides about the range of pesticide residues found in so many food products. That definitely is not my goal, to frustrate or frighten people. But I do hope that readers will be moved to care more about how our food is produced, how we make use of dangerous synthetic pesticides not just on farms but also on schoolyards and in parks where our children play.
And I hope they will want to be engaged in the larger discussion and debate about how we build a future that adequately balances the risks and rewards associated with these pesticides. As Whitewash shows, the current system is designed to pump up corporate profits much more than it is to promote long-term environmental and food production sustainability. There are many powerful forces at work to keep the status quo, to continue to push dangerous pesticides, almost literally down our throats. It’s up to the rest of us to push back.
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher, and writer with more than 25 years of experience covering corporate America. A former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, Gillam digs deep into the big business of food and agriculture. Carey is also the research director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, October 10, 2017
For More Information Contact: Stacy Malkan (510) 542-9224
Today, Carey Gillam, a former Reuters reporter and current research director for U.S. Right to Know, launched her new book, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science (Island Press), a hard-hitting investigation into the pesticide at the center of a regulatory and legal maelstrom on both sides of the Atlantic.
Tomorrow, Gillam will appear as an invited expert before members of the European Parliament at a joint committee hearing to discuss Monsanto’s efforts to manipulate science and regulatory assessments on glyphosate.
Gillam’s book and testimony are based on 20 years of research and scores of industry documents that describe the patterns of deception surrounding Monsanto’s flagship weed killer Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate, and the impacts on people and the environment.
According to Publishers Weekly, “Gillam expertly covers a contentious front where corporate malfeasance intersects with issues of public health and ecology.” Kirkus Reviews calls Whitewash “a hard-hitting, eye-opening narrative,” and a “forceful argument for an agricultural regulatory environment that puts public interest above corporate profits.”
As Whitewash details, glyphosate is the most widely used agrichemical in history—a pesticide so pervasive it’s in our air, our water, our food, and even our own bodies. For decades it’s been lauded as the chemical that’s “safe enough to drink,” but a growing body of scientific research ties glyphosate to cancers and a host of other health and environmental threats.
Whitewash explores the legal claims of thousands of Americans who allege Roundup caused their cancers, and exposes the powerful influence of a multi-billion-dollar industry that has worked for decades to keep consumers in the dark and regulators in check. The book reveals how political influence has been at work for years in regulatory agencies while also laying bare unappetizing truths about the levels of glyphosate and other pesticides commonly found in our food products.
Whitewash makes clear that 55 years after Rachel Carson and Silent Spring awakened the world to the dangers of unchecked pesticide use, we have failed to heed her warnings.
Recent news about Monsanto’s actions on glyphosate:
New York Times: “Monsanto’s Roundup Faces European Politics and US Lawsuits,” by Danny Hakim, Oct. 4, 2017
Le Monde Series:
- “Monsanto Papers”: les agences sous l’influence de la firme, by Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel, Oct. 5, 2017
- Soupçons sur les substances ajoutées au glyphosate dans les “produits formulés,” by Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart, Oct. 5, 2017
- “Monsanto Papers”: des dérives inadmissibles, Oct. 5, 2017
- “Monsanto papers”: désinformation organisée autour du glyphosate, by Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel, Oct. 4, 2017
The Guardian: “Monsanto Banned from EU Parliament,” by Arthur Neslen, Sept. 28, 2017
USRTK: “How Monsanto Manufactured ‘Outrage’ Over IARC Cancer Classification of Glyphosate,” by Carey Gillam, Sept. 19, 2017
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher, and writer with more than 25 years of experience covering corporate America. A former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, Gillam digs deep into the big business of food and agriculture.
U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.
By Carey Gillam
The glyphosate geeks are gathering in Washington this week. After a two-month delay, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding four days of meetings aimed at examining the evidence that does or does not tie the world’s most widely used herbicide — glyphosate — to cancer.
Scientists, activists and agricultural industry leaders are all expected to show up to either defend or attack the chemical that is currently at the center of international controversy. More than 250,000 public comments have been filed with the EPA ahead of the Dec. 13-16 meetings, and the agency is girding for more than 10 hours of personally delivered public comments before a specially appointed scientific advisory panel gets down to work.
The panel assignment: To offer advice on how the EPA should evaluate and interpret relevant data and how it all should translate into a EPA “carcinogen risk” classification for glyphosate.
The exercise is academic by design, but powerful economic forces are hard at work hoping to influence the outcome. Glyphosate is the billion-dollar-baby, the chief ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide as well as in hundreds of other herbicides sold around the world. It’s also the lynchpin to Monsanto’s top-selling, glyphosate-tolerant, genetically engineered crops.
An official regulatory nod to cancer concerns could be devastating to Monsanto’s bottom line, not to mention it’s planned $66 billion mergerwith Bayer AG, as well as to other agrichemical companies that sell glyphosate products. Monsanto is also facing more than three dozen lawsuits over glyphosate cancer concerns and needs EPA backing to defend against the court actions.
The questions about glyphosate and health issues are not new. Numerous scientific studies over multiple decades have raised concerns about harmful glyphosate impacts. Monsanto has always countered with its own studies and league of supportive scientists who say glyphosate is not carcinogenic and is one of the safest pesticides ever brought to market.
Last year the argument got more heated after a team of international cancer scientists working with the World Health Organization (WHO) said that there was sufficient evidence in the body of research to classify glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. That news was particularly worrisome to consumers because glyphosate use is so pervasive that government researchers have documented the chemical as “widespread in the environment,” found even in common foods like honey and oatmeal. It’s even found in urine samples of farmers and city dwellers alike.
The controversy has delayed re-authorization decisions not only in the United States, but also in Europe. Several European countries, including Italy and France, have called for an outright ban on glyphosate after glyphosate residues have been found in numerous foods there. Residues found in bread products prompted a “Not in Our Bread” campaign in Britain.
Numerous scientific studies over multiple decades have raised concerns about harmful glyphosate impacts.
But despite the consumer angst on both sides of the Atlantic, the EPA has already made it clear it largely agrees with Monsanto’s message that the international cancer scientists are wrong. The agency issued a report in September laying out the reasons it proposes to classify glyphosate as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
To get to that finding, the agency had to inappropriately discount the results of numerous human and animal studies showing evidence of ties to cancer, according to many scientists who are asking the EPA to reconsider its position.
“There are strong arguments for a classification of “Likely to be carcinogenic to humans” because there are multiple positive results in animals… and positive epidemiologic studies strengthened by other lines of evidence (DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells and possibly exposed humans),” Maarten Bosland, professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote in comments submitted to the agency.
Bosland is one of more than 90 scientists who issued a detailed report identifying the research that ties glyphosate to cancer. They say available human evidence shows an association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma; while significant carcinogenic effects are seen in laboratory animals for rare kidney and other types of tumors.
History has given us numerous examples of chemicals that are declared safe for decades only to be proven dangerous after extended arguments like the one we’re now seeing over glyphosate. It’s been common practice for the corporate players who profit off chemical agents to fight tooth and nail for their continued use even as study after study builds a case of sometimes devastating environmental and human health costs. And it’s been equally common for weak-kneed regulators to do as industry bids.
That appears to be the path EPA has followed with glyphosate. Ever since the agency announced last July that it would hold these meetings, the agrichemical industry’s trade group CropLife America has been working to make sure that the EPA repudiates the cancer concerns. CropLife first suggested the EPA scrap the meetings altogether, arguing there was no “scientific justification” for a review. The association then outlined criteria for the EPA to use in selecting scientists who might serve on the panel. And then after the panel was in place, CropLife told the EPA it should remove epidemiologist Dr. Peter Infante. CropLife considered him biased against the industry. The EPA responded by removing Infante as CropLife asked, and then refusing to explain its decision to the public, issuing a ‘no comment” to those who inquired about Infante’s removal.
Infante, who has served as an expert consultant in epidemiology for the EPA and several world bodies, says allegations of bias are invalid, and he still plans to attend but in a different capacity. After the EPA kicked him off the advisory panel, the agency agreed to grant him a few minutes to address the panel during the public comment part of the agenda. He is slated to speak Thursday morning.
In another hint at industry favoritism, earlier this year, the EPA “inadvertently” publicly posted an internal glyphosate assessment on its website that made a case for the safety of glyphosate. The document was up long enough for Monsanto to issue a press release gleefully tout the documents’ findings and providing a link to a copy of the document before the agency pulled it down, explaining it wasn’t final.
The agency’s actions have left environmental and consumer activists disheartened and doubtful the EPA will listen to any serious independent scrutiny of glyphosate’s safety.
“Their track record is awful,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “We don’t want to throw in the towel entirely. We want to try to hold them to their mission. But there is clearly evidence of industry influence. They aren’t doing anything to inspire confidence that they’re taking a serious look at this.”
Consumers rely on the EPA to prioritize their interests over corporate interests, and the EPA should not forget that, according to the public comment filed by Pamela Koch, executive director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University.
“We urge the EPA to apply the precautionary principle in this review…” Koch wrote. “We believe that caring for the public health is of the upmost importance and need regulations that protect farm workers, workers who apply glyphosate in non-agricultural settings, as well as the general public.”
This article originally appeared in The Hill
Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, formerly with Reuters, who directs research for U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer education group focused on food safety and policy matters. Follow @CareyGillam on Twitter
By Carey Gillam
Government testing for residues of an herbicide that has been linked to cancer has been put on hold, slowing the Food and Drug Administration’s first-ever endeavor to get a handle on just how much of the controversial chemical is making its way into U.S. foods.
The FDA, the nation’s chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a “special assignment” earlier this year to analyze certain foods for residues of the weed killer called glyphosate after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide line.
Glyphosate is under particular scrutiny now after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts last year declared the chemical a probable human carcinogen. Several private groups and nonprofits have been doing their own testing, and have been finding glyphosate residues in varying levels in a range of foods, raising consumer concerns about the pesticide’s presence in the American diet.
The FDA’s residue testing for glyphosate was combined with a broader herbicides analysis program the FDA set in motion in February of this year. But the glyphosate testing has been particularly challenging for the FDA. The agency was finally forced to put the glyphosate residue testing part of the work plan on hold amid confusion, disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency’s multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources. Equipment issues have also been a problem, with some labs citing a need for more sensitive instruments, sources within FDA said.
FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the testing suspension and said the agency is not sure when it will resume.
“As testing for glyphosate will expand to several locations, we are currently working to ensure that the methods are validated for use in these labs. As soon as the validation is completed, testing for glyphosate will resume,” she said. “We cannot speculate on timing at this point.”
Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also been analyzing foods for 2,4-D and other “acid herbicides,” documents obtained from the FDA show. The category of acid herbicides includes five of the top 10 active ingredients used in homes and gardens. Usage of 2,4-D is expected to triple in the coming year, according to the FDA.
The FDA work detail calls for the examination of roughly 1,340 food samples, 82 percent of which are to be domestic and 18 percent imported. The foods are to be collected from warehouse and retail stores only, and are to include a variety of cereal grains, vegetables and non-flavored, whole milk and eggs. Documents obtained from the agency through Freedom of Information requests show the agency has been testing corn and soybeans, wheat, barley, sugar beets, rice, and even samples of yellow popcorn and “organic white popcorn.”
McSeveney said glyphosate residues were only being analyzed in soy, corn, milk and eggs and the popcorn samples, while the other foods are being tested for residues of other herbicides.
Earlier this year, one of the agency’s senior chemists also analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported his results to the agency. Some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. The United States has no legal tolerance for glyphosate in honey, though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said recently it may set one because of the FDA findings. The results for honey and oatmeal are not considered to be part of the official assignment, however, according to McSeveney.
With the testing on hold, it is not clear when the agency might have final results on the glyphosate residue analysis. McSeveney said preliminary results showed no violations of legal tolerance levels allowed for glyphosate in the foods tested. She did not provide details on what, if any, levels of residue were found. Tolerance levels are set by the EPA for a variety of pesticides expected to be found in foods. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producer.
Monsanto said earlier this year that no data has ever indicated residue levels of more than a fraction of allowable levels, and it is confident FDA testing will reaffirm the safety of its herbicide.
Though FDA annually tests domestic and imported foods for residues of other pesticides, it never tested for glyphosate before. It has not routinely tested for 2,4-D either, a fact also criticized by the GAO. The FDA testing for 2,4-D residues comes as the use of 2,4-D with food crops is expected to start rising due to the commercialization of new formulated herbicide products that combine glyphosate and 2,4-D. Safety questions have been raised about the combination. But the EPA gave a green light on Nov. 1 to a Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. The new products are intended to counter widespread weed resistance to glyphosate, and be used with new types of genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops.
The agrichemical industry asserts that residues of glyphosate, 2,4-D and the array of other chemicals used in modern-day agriculture do not pose a danger to human health, but the lack of testing to determine actual residue levels of some of the most-used chemicals, like glyphosate and 2,4-D, has been troubling to many consumer groups.
Getting solid data on glyphosate’s presence in the American food supply is more important than ever now as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on future use of the herbicide. The FDA work covers only a few foods, but is a long-needed, good first step. Consumers can only hope the testing resumes soon.
The article was first published in the Huffington Post.