We eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. At least 75% of our diet relies on whole fresh produce. More often than not, Marty and I will buy organic produce instead of conventionally grown. We make exceptions due to availability and we buy produce with the least amount of pesticides, referring to Environmental Working Group’s lists of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” fruits and vegetables.
I recently came across the following statement in Reuters News from December 19, 2014.
“More than half of food tested by the U.S. government for pesticide residues last year showed detectable levels of pesticides, though most were within levels the government considers to be safe, according to a report issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture”
A somewhat reassuring statement. It would have been better to read “all” rather than “most.” Then I went on to read:
“As has been the case with past analyses, the USDA said it did not test this past year for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide and the world's most widely used herbicide.”
What? They don’t they test for glyphosate? The world’s most widely used herbicide? The same article had an answer as to why.
“A USDA spokesman who asked not to be quoted said that the test measures required for glyphosate are "extremely expensive... to do on an regular basis".”
I know glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine] can’t be insignificant. Monsanto crops up a lot in the business news as the multinational, agrochemical, agricultural biotechnology company. They are known as the leading producers of Roundup as well as Roundup Ready seeds, which are genetically modified to withstand applications of the herbicide Roundup.
In a recently published research article, “Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles”, molecular biologists and biotechnologists worked together on this study to determine toxicity levels. They preface their findings with the explanation that pesticides are made up of formulations that contain active principles and “adjuvants". Adjuvants improve the pesticides ability to eliminate the unwanted pest and penetrate cells, and are often kept confidential and labeled as inert ingredients by the manufacturer.
Only the active substance is tested for regulatory purposes. These tests are conducted to determine the acceptable daily intake – the level of exposure that is claimed to be safe for the humans over the long term - and justifies the presence of residues of these pesticides at “admissible” levels in the environment and organisms. The regulatory system assumes that the active substance is the most toxic compound of a formulation to non-target species thus long term toxicity studies are performed on the active substance only.
In the study they tested the toxicity of 9 pesticides (3 herbicides, 3 insecticides and 3 fungicides) on three human cell lines (embryonic, placental and hepatic), then compared the results from the adjuvants in the formulations and their active principles. They determined that the current regulatory tests for pesticides are excluding the full extent of toxic damage to humans by only focusing on the effect of a single substance rather than the pesticide’s entire formula. This singular focus is resulting in false reports as to the true damage that these pesticides can cause to humans.
“Despite its relatively benign reputation, Roundup was among the most toxic herbicides and insecticides tested. Most importantly, 8 formulations out of 9 were up to one thousand times more toxic than their active principles. Our results challenge the relevance of the acceptable daily intake for pesticides because this norm is calculated from the toxicity of the active principle alone. Chronic tests on pesticides may not reflect relevant environmental exposures if only one ingredient of these mixtures is tested alone…
“The definition of adjuvants as “inerts” is thus nonsense; even if the US Environmental Protection Agency has recently changed the appellation for “other ingredients,” pesticide adjuvants should be considered as toxic “active” compounds…
“Roundup was found in this experiment to be 125 times more toxic than glyphosate. Moreover, despite its reputation, Roundup was by far the most toxic among the herbicides and insecticides tested. This inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to huge economic interests, which have been found to falsify health risk assessments and delay health policy decisions.”
This revelation should be a true cause for concern. The US regulatory agencies (EPA and USDA) are relying on the results of incomplete assessments of what is an “acceptable daily intake.” They are allowing our food supply to have under-reported levels of pesticide residue. This is residue that can be on the outer surface or absorbed through the roots and into the cellular structure of the plant that is then sold as food for human consumption or as feed for animals that are raised for human consumption.
The US has been farming for years using insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to increase crop production. Plus the US government has continually doled out farm subsidies, which encourage the growth of genetically engineered corn and soy. The big agriculture industry relies on these crops as feed for cattle, and the corn for processing high fructose corn syrup, which is in so many food products. The standard American diet (SAD) based on hamburgers, fries and cola is nothing without the steady supply of these subsidized crops exposed to pesticide applications. Living in a fast food nation, the majority of Americans could be consuming more than the “acceptable daily intake” of pesticides.
Another fascinating study highlights the correlation of the rise of genetically engineered crops, the associated use of glyphosate and the increase in chronic disease - “Genetically Engineered Crops, Glyphosate and the Deterioration of Health in the United States of America.”
According to their research, genetically engineered corn and soy crop cultivation went from less than 10% to 90% from 1995 to 2012. The study includes multiple charts that map out over time the correlation of the increase in chronic diseases in the US with the rise in glyphosate use. They obtained their facts by searching US government databases, such as the US Department of Agriculture and the Center for Disease Control, for genetically engineered crop data, glyphosate application data and disease epidemiological data.
What’s fascinating is how the rise in chronic disease closely matches the exponential increase in the use of glyphosate. Plus one can’t help but notice that obesity is becoming an epidemic.
“Given that glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria balance, the metabolic process, the uptake of nutrients, the endocrine system, and damages DNA, it seemed likely that there would be correlations between the increase of these diseases and the exponential increase in the use of glyphosate, particularly with the advent of glyphosate-resistant food crops. To this end, we searched for epidemiological disease data, along with pesticide use on crops and the percentage of GE crops planted since first being introduced in 1995. “
The diseases they focused on and charted included liver cancer, kidney cancer, bladder/urinary tract cancers, hypertension, hemorrhagic stroke, diabetes, end stage renal disease, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal infection deaths, childhood autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
They do explain that there could be other factors that have contributed to these chronic diseases yet they still point to the primary factor of increased use of the pesticide glyphosate as the culprit.
“The people have been exposed to an increasing background level of chemicals and other toxins for over 70 years, yet few, if any, have increased at the rate of glyphosate and GE crops. “
Not only does the USDA not test for glyphosate, the EPA increased the allowable limit.
“In the US, glyphosate residues allowed in food are some of the highest in the world. In July of 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2013) raised the maximum allowable residues of glyphosate.”
This allowable level not only includes crop residues but residue allowed in livestock feed. The use of such feed as well as antibiotics in factory farming has affected the quality of animal products.
The debate will continue between those that advocate for and against organically grown food. It’s very clear that corporations are in the business to make money. They do not have the individual’s best health in mind. Corporations will do only what they are required to do to comply with the law.
Fortunately there are watchdog groups to help out the consumer. Yet even the watchdogs are working with data that’s incomplete. For example Environmental Working Groups Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce relies on the test results from the government to compile their data. Those tests don’t measure glyphosate residue, nor do they measure the effects of the toxic soup of adjuvants and active substances.
For us, we’ll continue to eat our plant based diet, but we’ll try to buy organic whenever possible. And when we do buy conventionally grown produce, we’ll choose those tested to have the least amount of pesticide residue and avoid those with greater risks. Since our food dollars don’t go toward buying snack foods, bottled beverages, processed food or an array of pharmaceuticals, we can pay the extra for organic. Ultimately, it comes down to each person taking responsibility for finding the best options for eating and staying healthy. Our health is worth it.
Slideshow of select charts from "Genetically Engineered Crops, Glyphosate and The Deterioration of Health in the United States."