Glyphosate Testing: Controversy and Inaction

According to email documents recently released through Freedom of Information Act requests, the USDA is quietly changing their 2017 chemical residue testing plans by dropping a test for glyphosate residues in corn syrup. Stating that it would be a “more efficient use of resources,” the USDA will instead test honey for a variety of residues, but will omit glyphosate from that list due to the added complexity of glyphosate testing methods.

Under current jurisdiction, the EPA is responsible for setting acceptable levels of chemical residues in food, while the FDA is tasked with monitoring and enforcing those levels. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service division assists the FDA in their chemical residue monitoring efforts.


Glyphosate Residues in Food: Lack of Oversight

Glyphosate, a chemical not allowed in the production of organic foods, is the most widely used herbicide in the world and one that the World Health Organization designated in 2012 as a possible carcinogen. Despite that prevalence and the fact that the EPA has set glyphosate residue limits for a large number of food products, the FDA has a history of avoiding glyphosate monitoring. An October 2014 report issued by the Government Accountability Office criticized the FDA for its lack of rigor in chemical residue testing methodology and sample size, highlighting the agency’s complete lack of glyphosate testing. In its conclusion, the GOA report made several recommendations to improving the FDA’s residue monitoring program, including a request to increase the scope of substances it tests for.

…no US government agency appears likely to move forward with glyphosate residue monitoring any time soon.

In response, the FDA conducted its first preliminary tests for glyphosate residues in decades on samples of corn, soy, milk, and egg products. However, the testing was suspended in November 2016 due to FDA claims that the agency needed to validate testing methods used across various labs before continuing. They’ve given no timetable for when or if that testing will resume. In light of the recent changes in testing plans, the no US government agency appears likely to move forward with glyphosate residue monitoring any time soon. Read more about glyphosate in food production.


Glyphosate in the News

The New York Times recently reported on court documents unsealed by a judge presiding over litigation alleging that direct exposure to Monsanto glyphosate products caused cancer in numerous plaintiffs. The case highlights potentially illegal communications between a now-retired senior EPA staff member and Monsanto executives, during which the EPA staff member may have helped to impede a review of glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto’s trademarked Roundup Ready weed-killers) safety, among other potential assists to the agro-chemical giant. The unsealed documents shed suspicious light on the EPA’s dealings with Monsanto and concurrent assessments of glyphosate safety.

Though not related, this development comes amidst news that the State of California’s attempt to add glyphosate to the list of consumer products that must be labeled as a possible carcinogen was upheld in court. The ruling allowing the addition of glyphosate to the state list was made on March 10, 2017 and the case is pending appeal before any changes to the list are made.


Canadian Testing Picks Up U.S. Slack

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency expects to release glyphosate residue testing results in late April. The CFIA tested an extensive set of food products in its first-ever attempt at monitoring glyphosate levels in food. Ag industry and environmental groups eagerly await the report as it may have a strong influence over public perception of glyphosate residues.

Because it is a banned substance in the USDA National Organic Program, certified organic foods are the best way to avoid glyphosate residue in your diet.


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