Should you be afraid to eat foods with glyphosate in them?

You’re not alone if you feel as though you’re being gripped by fear of food. Headlines such as “Unsafe levels of a weed killer chemical in oat products, report says” from a few weeks ago and this week’s “Weed-killing chemical found in pasta, cereal and cookies sold in Canada: study” can rip away at your confidence in our food supply.

Add in reports such as produce’s dirty dozen (those fruits and vegetables with the highest count of pesticide residues) and others that tell you about how we’re killing our honey bees (we’re not!). It’s no wonder you’re really at a loss about what’s safe to eat.

The weed killer in question is glyphosate and it’s one at the centre of a number of controversies. But hold on and read this before you toss out all these foods!

In an interview with CTV NewsMuhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager at Environmental Defence said, “When we have evidence that a chemical is linked to cancer, I think questions need to be raised about, you know, what is a safe a limit?”.

This statement essentially shows how some of these groups work.

Saying that questions need to be raised about safe limits says it all. Malas makes it sound as though this group is suddenly asking these questions for the first time. Safe limits have been already been established and while they are still being debated among some groups, the amounts found in any of these products are negligible compared to these limits.

But before I go any further, I would like to point out for those of you who aren’t familiar with my thoughts when it comes to the food industry and regulatory bodies, I have been known for taking some harsh stances against them. And as for the what is happening with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  in the U.S. and about the current state of American politics –  well, I’m Canadian and we’re well known for what we think. I’m also not a fan of Monsanto due to their business practices.

Likewise I’ve written about the consequences of arsenic-containing pesticide use in contamination of grains such as rice. But that was from pesticides from decades ago. They were not only poorly tested in terms of safety but also in their impact on the environment. If they leached into the ground or ground water in large amounts, nobody paid much attention to it. Top that off with the fact that crops were sprayed with copious amounts of pesticides without a lot of thought about the best time to spray for maximum effect and minimal cost.

Times have changed.

Pesticide research can now involve over 100,000 compounds before just one makes it to the advanced testing phase – one that can take over a decade of extensive testing prior to making it to the approval stage.

Yet here we have statements such as that of the toxicologist at Environmental Defence saying we should now look at safety levels. Just exactly what is their agenda?

But they certainly hit the jackpot when a California verdict awarded a groundskeeper who worked with Roundup (a pesticide mix containing glyphosate) $289 million after he developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer. But what was really behind this verdict?

Read what Joe Schwarcz, Ph.D, a well-respected professor at McGill wrote in his weekly newsletter at the Office for Science and Society – Separating Sense from Nonsense.

Schwarcz points out that the incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma has actually declined since 2000, even though glyphosate use has dramatically increased after the introduction of genetically modified crops in the 1990s. He also notes that proper application methods were not used by the groundskeeper. Schwarcz says “Although there is no convincing evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic in people, the possibility of harm when exposure is extensive cannot be ruled out. By his own admission, Mr. Johnson sprayed hundreds of gallons of herbicide every week with no protective equipment. On windy days he admits to having been coated with a chemical mist and once was even soaked from head to toe when a hose on his equipment malfunctioned.

As has often been said, there are no safe or dangerous chemicals, only safe or dangerous ways to use them.”.

Schwarcz discusses exactly what these trace amounts of glyphosate in food mean in terms of safety limits. The highest concentration found in a food was 760 parts per billion. “That would mean that a small child eating 100 grams of the cereal would consume 0.076 milligrams of glyphosate. Most regulatory agencies have concluded that consumption up to 0.5 mg/kg body weight per day presents no problem, so that a 10 kg child could consume 5 mg per day. The 0.076 mg consumed is 1/66th of this.”, says Schwarcz.

“What we have here is a tempest in a cereal bowl caused by an ill wind blowing from an alarmist organization.”

That sums it up pretty well, wouldn’t you say?

Stay tuned in the next few weeks as I’ll be discussing some surprising  facts about pesticides and the environment.

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Categories: Food Safety, Nutrition News

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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