Just when you think you’re eating a healthy dish of vegetables or fruit, we now learn that much of the produce grown in America is allowed to be sprayed with a controversial chemical that has been tied to cancer. Before you drop your side of beans, understand that there are ways to protect yourself from these potentially harmful herbicides, as long as you know what is getting into and onto our food.
First, it’s probably true that you have already ingested this chemical in your food. An estimated 90 percent of Americans have pesticides and preservative byproducts in their bodies, according to a study that measured pesticide residue found in urine and blood. These chemicals come into our bodies primarily from eating fruits and vegetables.
But recent lawsuits have directed consumer attention toward a potentially cancerous herbicide called glyphosate that is known to kill most plants, weeds, and grasses it touches. Glyphosate has been in use in the US since 1974, especially in the popular herbicide RoundUp, which now has had to pay billions to a class of farmers and growers who got cancer after working with the product. Now a new study shows that the majority of Americans have been exposed to this potentially cancer-causing chemical in their food.
A new NBC report tells us that Glyphosate has been used on nearly half of all corn and soybeans that are grown in the US, especially in the bread basket states of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana but also widely across the south and west, including Colorado. The Environmental Protection Agency has not acted to curb the biggest seller of glyphosate, pharmaceutical giant Bayer, and new lawsuits are cropping up to force the US government to take action.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in RoundUp, the herbicide that has been linked to cancer. A class action suit filed by growers, farmers, and others working with RoundUp who suffered various types of cancer won an award of $11 billion from Monsanto and its current corporate owner, Bayer. Over 125 thousand payments have been made with many more pending.
Is Glyphosate Safe? The European Union Is Stricter Than the US
For nearly 50 years, Monsanto (bought by Bayer in 2018) and other major herbicide producers have used glyphosate as the active ingredient in weedkillers. Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Now data shows that consumers in the Midwest, Colorado, and several Southern states have endured the highest exposure and yet the EPA is still not ringing the alarm bells, maintaining that there is no risk to human health based on current uses. Roundup has been required to pay $11 billion in a class action suit brought by farmers and growers who got several types of cancer after working with the herbicide.
European regulators have been much stricter when it comes to limits. The EPA’s glyphosate safety limit currently allows twice that set in the European Union. When the EPA concluded that glyphosate presents no significant risks to human health in 2020, a federal appeals court rejected the decision.
That lawsuit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council against the EPA, together with many of the large growers including the National Association of Wheat Growers, the Cotton Council, the Farm Bureau Federation, as well as Corn Growers Association, the Soybean Association, and the National Sorghum Producers. Just for good measure, they also named Monsanto (makers of Roundup) and the Golf Course Superintendents Association since all of these groups depend on using powerful herbicides to grow crops or keep golf course fairways groomed and weed-free.
In a different world, you might imagine that the EPA would be on the side of protecting the environment from harsh potentially cancer-causing chemicals, not making it easier for growers to pollute the natural resources with more chemicals than anyone knows is safe for humans. The EPA, after all, is required by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act “to regulate pesticides, which are defined to include herbicides.”
An NBC News analysis of 2019 USGS agricultural glyphosate usage data found:
- An average of nearly 130 pounds of glyphosate herbicides were sprayed per square mile in the US.
- Lake County, Colorado, had the single highest glyphosate usage rate of any county, with almost 2,000 pounds sprayed per square mile.
- More than 55 million people live in counties with above-average glyphosate use.
- Iowa and Illinois (where most of the US corn and soy are grown), accounted for 15 percent of US glyphosate usage.
- Southwestern and Northeastern states used the least glyphosate.
The EPA That Regulates Chemical Use in Industry Is Not Taking Action
Still, the EPA maintains that these chemicals have no risk to human health, echoing statements made by Bayer, the seller of RoundUp. Several politicians and activists have petitioned the EPA to properly address the public health risks that this herbicide ingredient presents to the American consumer base.
“Glyphosate is the most widely used chemical weedkiller in human history because of genetic engineering,” said Dave Murphy, the founder of Food Democracy Now, an advocacy group that tests glyphosate in food. “It’s sprayed ubiquitously and Monsanto has, for decades, just maintained that it’s the safest agricultural chemical ever made.”
Back in 2015 Glyphosate Was Linked to Cancer
When the IARC classified glyphosate as a Group 2A carcinogen, Monsanto (and later Bayer) was flooded with a flush of lawsuits that cost the company over $10 billion dollars, many of which are still in litigation California currently lists glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer, a classification that has been contested by both Monsanto and the EPA.
“Given the serious risks associated with glyphosate, the agency’s pattern of failing to adhere to its cancer assessment guidelines and the court’s vacatur of the human health portion of the agency’s most recent human health assessment, EPA must ensure the most rigorous final assessment possible,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) Booker wrote in a letter sent to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “It is unacceptable for the agency to continue to reassert conclusions built on inconsistent findings.
“I urge the EPA to closely follow its Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment in its current review of glyphosate in order to protect our nation’s public health from this dangerous chemical, wrote Booker.
Health Risks Associated With Glyphosate
Despite contradictions between the EPA and IARC reports, several peer-reviewed data reveal significant connections between glyphosate exposure and health issues. Two studies found that the herbicide glyphosate potentially impacted the gut microbiome and disrupted healthy hormone levels.
Research conducted by Robin Mesnage, a toxicologist at King’s College London, found that glyphosate consumption can cause DNA damage and alter healthy liver metabolism.
Is Glyphosate Used on My Produce?
Monsanto first introduced genetically engineered seeds that could survive glyphosate sprays in 1996, and since, American agriculture has developed a dependency on the potentially dangerous chemical.
Currently, nearly 90 percent of corn and soybean crops are modified to withstand glyphosate, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. And the agricultural sector ensures that it’s used. Nearly half of all planted acres of corn, cotton, and soybeans are sprayed with weedkillers containing glyphosate.
“Glyphosate is the most widely used chemical weedkiller in human history because of genetic engineering,” Dave Murphy, the founder of Food Democracy Now, said. “It’s sprayed ubiquitously and Monsanto has, for decades, just maintained that it’s the safest agricultural chemical ever made.”
Research and lawsuits remain ongoing, but data points to dangerous levels of glyphosate nationwide. Currently, Bayer is working to remove glyphosate in several Round-Up products but affirms that the decision is to mitigate the mounting lawsuits. Crop production nationwide will still use the glyphosate formula. If you consume corn and soybean products, it is likely that you have eaten food sprayed with glyphosate.
Can Organic Crops be Sprayed with RoundUp?
Technically, organic farming certifications require that the growers can not use glyphosate on their crops, but some crops have still tested positive for it. How can that be? Farmers may be spraying the soil before the seeds are planted, the make sure weeds won’t grow, but the crops will.
Even Non-GMO labels won’t certify that the crops are organic, and recently the confusion over what GMO and Non-GMO stand for has been clouded by the fact that many crops are genetically modified, but that doesn’t mean they are being modified to withstand the spraying of RoundUp. There is a new label to look for, that went into effect this year, and it is “Bioengineered” since those foods are most likely to have been altered in the lab to withstand the harshness of being sprayed with glyphosate or RoundUp.
This January, the USDA released a new food label that marked foods as bioengineered. Most genetically modified foods were engineered to withstand being sprayed with the weed killer Roundup, linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The new label aims to grab the attention of consumers that have grown used to “Non-GMO” labels.
However, the labels only indicate that the food products are bioengineered to withstand chemical preservatives or herbicides, not to clarify the chemicals used.
“The worst part of this law is the use of the term ‘bioengineered’ because that’s not a term most consumers are familiar with,” according to Gregory Jaffe, director of the project on biotechnology for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, quoted in The Washington Post. The label change was driven by the fact that the term “GMO” had come to be perceived as pejorative, The Post points out, whereas bioengineered is more accurate.
Foods Linked to Cancer Include Red Meat
Wanting to cut your risk of cancer? Before the research on glyphosate is nailed down, cutting down on meat and dairy consumption can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer. One recent study found that eating plant-based can protect your body from several digestive cancers including liver, esophageal, gastric, and colorectal.
In general, giving up meat can lower your risk of cancer by 14 percent. Processed meats have been classified as Group 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization.
Bottom Line: Your Produce Might Contain Chemicals Linked to Cancer
Glyphosate, the main ingredient in major herbicides including RoundUp, is potentially linked to cancer risks, and a new report finds that it’s in most of the crops like corn, wheat, and soy food we eat. Following its classification as a carcinogen in 2015, lawsuits have challenged the EPA to take action. Until then, buy organic and look for foods that are not “bio-engineered” to withstand being sprayed with glyphosate.
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