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The weed killer glyphosate—infamously known as Roundup—can be found everywhere: lawns, gardens, parks, soil, rivers and even in the rain (1). But household use of this herbicide is dwarfed by its use in agriculture. And herein lies the problem.
Over the past several years, scientists have discovered that exposure to glyphosate-containing weed killers is a huge threat to public health. And it’s a risk that keeps growing.
The rise of GMO crops—including corn, soy, and canola—has led to a skyrocketing use of glyphosate with almost 300 million pounds applied each year (2). Genetically engineered crops (GMOs) were designed to withstand this toxic herbicide, so it can be sprayed and kill the weeds but not the crop.
But this weed killer is not just used on GMO foods. A variety of non-organic crops including wheat, oats, rye, peas and millet may all be treated with glyphosate to ready the crops for harvesting (3).
The result is that this weed killer has become an unwelcome and often unknown addition to virtually all the food we eat (4).
That bowl of oat cereal for breakfast? It comes with a sprinkling of glyphosate. Testing by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that every single sample of oat-based products they tested showed levels of glyphosate.
Some of these samples had shockingly high levels of glyphosate. For example, the Quaker Oatmeal Squares Honey Nut cereal showed a result of 2,837 ppb (parts per billion), far above the 160 ppb that the EWG considers safe (5).
Planning on a sandwich for lunch? You’re likely getting a slice of glyphosate with your bread. Testing by the UK government revealed that 60% of bread sold there had pesticide residues, most frequently, glyphosate (6).
And no matter what you plan for dinner, chances are you’ll get a serving of glyphosate too. Testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found glyphosate in 30 percent of all foods sampled (7).
When you consider you may be eating some glyphosate at every meal, the level of exposure becomes quite worrisome.
According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), glyphosate is classified as “probably carcinogenic” (8). This may explain why eating organic is linked to a reduced risk of cancer.
In August 2018, a heated court case opened the world’s eyes to the potential cancer risk of Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing weed killers (9).
A California court ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a man dying of cancer. Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father, developed a severe and fatal form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a school groundskeeper, he was repeatedly exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup and several other glyphosate-based weed killers.
But cancer isn’t the only concern with glyphosate. Researchers have found links between glyphosate and many different health issues.
The thing is, glyphosate isn’t the only concern. That’s because glyphosate interacts with the other ingredients in weed killer products, which can make it even more dangerous.
Glyphosate is rarely used on its own. It’s usually combined with a cocktail of proprietary “inert ingredients” that result in what we know as a chemical weed killer or herbicide.
According to Caroline Cox, research director of the Center for Environmental Health, the term “inert ingredient” is completely misleading (15). Cox explains that Federal regulations label any pesticide ingredients that don’t harm pests as “inert.” But that doesn’t mean inert chemicals are safe.
Research shows commercially available herbicides are much more toxic than glyphosate alone. One “inert ingredient” in some variations of Roundup is called polyethoxylated tallow amines or POEAs. This chemical surfactant was found to express a variety of toxic effects to humans (16).
”Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food, our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.’‘ ~A quote from a Monsanto Executive in the New York Times.
The court case with Dewayne Johnson not only exposed the dangers of glyphosate-based herbicides, but also how Monsanto has allegedly covered up the dangers.
Whenever a study was published that revealed the dangers of glyphosate herbicides, Monsanto “pushed its version of the science into the public realm through ghostwritten work that was designed to appear independent and thus more credible” according to The Guardian.
The Guardian’s report also mentioned evidence was put forth that indicated the company allegedly worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to suppress the evidence of potential harm.
So not only was Monsanto found responsible for Dewayne Johnson’s cancer, but the jury also determined that there was “’clear and convincing evidence’ that Monsanto’s officials acted with ‘malice or oppression’ in failing to adequately warn of the risks,” reported The Guardian.
Since glyphosate-based weed killer residues can be found seemingly everywhere, it’s impossible to completely avoid it. What you can do is minimize your exposure to protect your health.
Most importantly, purchase organic food whenever possible. If you’re on a budget, aim to buy these 15 foods as organic, as they typically have the highest contamination levels for pesticides and herbicides.
When it comes to staying safe from weed killers, consistency is key. The effects of weed killers aren’t likely to happen overnight unless you’re exposed to large amounts of it. It’s the constant chronic exposure in our food supply that presents a long-term risk.