As a conscientious food shopper, you scrutinize every food label, making sure that what you’re about to put in your cart is non-GMO and organic (like these pasta alternatives that have less than 1 gram of carbohydrate).
But one food label you’re not likely insistent upon finding on packaged food is “Glyphosate-Free.” At least not yet, but that’s soon likely to change. According to FoodDive.com, “glyphosate residue free” certification is already a $200 million market, an increase of almost 60% from last year.
Why are more brands paying for the privilege to label some or all of their products glyphosate free? One reason is because of one of the biggest mass tort cases in U.S. history: Roundup Weed Killer. Over 125,000 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, the crop science company that invented both glyphosate and Roundup Weed Killer. Plaintiffs allege that glyphosate caused them to develop a type of cancer of the white blood cells called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Soon after Monsanto developed Roundup-ready crops in 1996, farmers and agricultural workers throughout the U.S. and much of the world began spraying soy, corn and other crops with glyphosate. As a result, glyphosate residue is found in virtually the entire U.S. food supply.
What Is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate is both an herbicide and pesticide. The active ingredient in Roundup, the world’s best-selling weed killer, glyphosate works to kill weeds before crops are planted by blocking a pathway that’s required for plant growth. Genetically-engineered Roundup-resistant crops can then be planted without weeds robbing soy, corn and wheat of nutrients.
Approximately 25 percent of the world’s herbicidal products contain glyphosate. Because all packaged and heavily-processed foods are made with corn, soy and/or wheat, a large chunk of foods sold in supermarkets contain glyphosate residue.
Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer?
It depends whom you ask. According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), glyphosate is listed as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” However, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the herbicide is unlikely to be a human carcinogen. The discrepancy between the two agencies is the result of how data is interpreted, and what data is interpreted.
According to a paper published in Environmental Sciences Europe, both agencies reached “diametrically opposed conclusions on glyphosate genotoxicity” for a few reasons. One reason is that EPA relied mostly on unpublished studies while IARC relied mostly on peer-reviewed studies. Also, says Environmental Sciences Europe, “EPA’s evaluation was focused on typical, general population dietary exposures assuming legal, food-crop uses, and did not take into account, nor address generally higher occupational exposures and risks.”
This implies that glyphosate residue in food may not be enough to cause cancer. (Or maybe it is; not enough research has been conducted.) However, if you’re an avid gardener, landscaper, groundskeeper or agricultural worker, and use Roundup or other glyphosate-based herbicide for many years, your risk of developing cancer is much likely to be higher.
According to a law firm that has successfully sued Monsanto, glyphosate has been shown in research studies to be a contributing factor to different types of cancers as well as the following disorders:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Birth defects
- Celiac Disease
- Heart Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Liver Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
The research linking glyphosate to these illnesses aren’t conclusive. However, because of the media spotlight on Roundup litigation and the $10 billion Bayer AG (which acquired Monsanto in 2018) has set aside to settle the majority of the 125,000 lawsuits, people are becoming more aware of the potential dangers of glyphosate exposure from both gardening and consuming food.
Foods With Glyphosate
It’s far easier to list foods that don’t contain glyphosate, or at least far less of the herbicide’s residue. Anything made with conventionally-grown (non-organic) oats, corn, soy, cottonseed (many processed foods are made with cottonseed oil; another good reason to avoid all vegetable and seed oils) and wheat contain glyphosate residue.
If you want to limit your exposure to glyphosate, the best thing to do is buy local, organic produce and organic just about everything else. Yes, non-organic kale has just as much vitamin A and C as its organic counterpart. However, the reason to buy organic produce is not because of nutritional superiority but rather because organic fruits and veggies aren’t sprayed with glyphosate or other toxic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
As the potential health problems associated with glyphosate becomes common knowledge, expect to see more brands label their foods as glyphosate-residue free.