By Patti Wood
The American public needs to understand they’re on their own when it comes to protecting themselves from pesticide residues in food. That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency, like several other federal agencies, is carefully and methodically shielding the industries it is supposed to be regulating, instead of protecting the public. When the EPA was created on Dec. 2, 1970, it was on the stated path of standing up to corporate influence. It has since lost its way.
For example, let’s take the potential harm caused by just one single chemical ingredient in a popular pesticide product. The ingredient is a chemical called glyphosate, and the pesticide is Round-Up weed killer, introduced by Monsanto in 1974. Round-Up is the most widely used pesticide in the world, sprayed on billions of acres of farmland where it allows farmers to kill weeds but not the GMO crops that grow there. It is easy to find in garden centers and big box stores across America, where it is also heavily used by homeowners and the landscape industry.
Unfortunately, residues of glyphosate are also easy to find in the foods many of us just enjoyed around our holiday tables, and in the foods that our children most enjoy, including things like Cheerios, Goldfish Crackers, Annie’s cookies and various brands of orange juice and cold cereals.
In a report called “Unsafe on Any Plate,” two organizations – Food Democracy Now and The Detox Project – tested 29 cereal and snack products popular with kids and found moderate to high levels of glyphosate in all of them. While levels as low as 1 part per billion (ppb) have been shown to cause liver damage in laboratory studies, levels as high as 1,125 ppb were found in Cheerios. Wheat, as well as oats, corn, and soybeans, primary ingredients in many of these foods, are commonly sprayed with the pesticide throughout the growing season and more recently are being used as a dessicating agent just prior to harvest. Glyphosate does not wash off, dry off, evaporate or disappear when processed, and traces of the weed killer have been found in literally thousands of foods and beverages.
It’s also very toxic to pollinators on which we all depend for at least 35 percent of the world’s food production. Bee populations have been steadily declining ever since Round-Up became popular in the agricultural market, and the decline has accelerated in recent years. A study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology showed that bees exhibited an extreme sensitivity to glyphosate, with a 94 percent mortality rate. This study suggests that glyphosate, possibly in combination with another common chemical surfactant ingredient, may be the cause of this sharp decline.
In 2020, the EPA itself released a draft report finding that glyphosate is likely to injure or kill 93 percent of the plants and animals that are currently protected by the Endangered Species Act. No protective action has been offered.
So what is glyphosate doing to kids and others who eat large quantities of cold cereal and snack foods? Multiple studies have demonstrated either a causal link or a close association to serious health outcomes, including an increased risk of multiple cancers (especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), neurotoxicity, thyroid damage, liver and kidney disease, weakened immune systems, hormonal imbalance and reproductive problems.
And there’s another aspect to glyphosate’s impact on our health that is being re-examined. Medical experts are worried about animal studies showing a significant disturbance in gut bacteria when glyphosate is present. The impact on the gut microbiota is significant and has been associated with behavioral and learning disabilities in both animals and humans. Researchers say they know the brain and gut share many of the same neurons, but now for the first time, they have also confirmed that they also share autism-related gene mutations. One out of six children in the United States has a learning disability and the alarming rise in children being diagnosed with autism shows no signs of abating. Although definitive association with many of these troubling health issues is elusive, these trends correlate closely with the increased use of glyphosate to grow our food.
Despite the growing number of studies and the pleas of medical experts, the EPA has insisted that the use of glyphosate is not a human carcinogen and carries little risk. This finding puts EPA squarely at odds with the World Health Organization, the EPA’s own office of Research and Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the State of California’s Proposition 65 Registry of chemicals known to cause cancer.
EPA currently allows the use of 85 pesticides that have been banned elsewhere, including 72 banned by the EU, 17 banned in Brazil and 11 banned in China. Nathan Donley, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity says “It’s appalling the U.S. lags so far behind these major agricultural powers in banning harmful pesticides. The fact that we’re still using hundreds of millions of pounds of poisons other nations have rejected as too risky spotlights our dangerously lax approach to phasing out hazardous pesticides.”
The bottom line: weak laws, industry influence in Washington and the EPA’s broken pesticide regulatory process allows the pesticide industry to dictate which pesticides can be found in your bowl of oatmeal.
So as you make out your list of New Year’s resolutions, you might think about adding one more: try to find certified organic substitutes for the food your kids eat most. Although the drift of glyphosate means that even some organic foods can contain trace levels, it’s a significant degree of magnitude better than continuing to feed your kids food we know for certain is harmful.
If the EPA won’t do it, it’s up to you.