The Herbicide Everyone Should be Talking About: Glyphosate
Most of us can agree: pesticides don’t belong in our food. But how many pesticides do you know by name?
If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone.
A recent survey commissioned by One Degree Organics showed 75% of North Americans want to limit pesticide exposure in food, but only 25% know about glyphosate.1
Used on over 100 food crops, including oats and grains, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world. However, multiple studies have shown glyphosate has negative impacts on the environment as well as human health.
Food companies are not required to tell you if there is glyphosate in what you eat, so it’s up to you to learn about this herbicide in order to make informed decisions about what you buy. That being said, there are independent certification programs for glyphosate-free foods. Much like non-GMO and organic labeling, non-glyphosate seals give you the power of choice.
At The Oven Door, we believe everyone deserves that power. This article is a crash course in glyphosate to arm you with knowledge and to help spread the word. We’ll cover:
- What is Glyphosate?
- The Health Impacts of Glyphosate
- The Environmental Impacts of Glyphosate
- Crops that Commonly Have Glyphosate Residue
- How to Avoid Glyphosate
Glyphosate is an herbicide used to control weeds and grasses. There are over 750 products containing glyphosate for sale in the United States.2 It’s best known as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide, Roundup.
According to Glyphosate General NPIC Fact Sheet, glyphosate works by preventing plants from making certain proteins needed for growth. It also stops a metabolic pathway called the shikimic acid pathway, which is used by plants and microorganisms.3
This pathway facilitates the biosynthesis of essential amino acids, like tryptophan that we can only obtain from food or supplementation.4
In order to prevent killing off crops in the process of spraying glyphosate, farmers use seeds that are genetically modified to resist this herbicide. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) also come with many health and environmental risks that you can learn about here.
Direct exposure to products containing glyphosate has been shown to cause skin and eye irritation in humans and adverse effects in pets who eat or touch plants sprayed with glyphosate.2
But what about more moderate exposure through the foods we eat?
In 2015, the World Health Organization and International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” and concluded there was strong evidence for genotoxicity for glyphosate.5 In other words, glyphosate can damage genetic information in cells and is a probable cause of cancer.
The 2020 US Department of Health and Human Services toxicological profile for glyphosate also links this herbicide to cancer as well as other health concerns, such as gastrointestinal effects.6
The big environmental problem with glyphosate? It gets around.
The introduction of genetically engineered, Roundup-ready seeds and the spread of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” has only led to an increase in glyphosate use. As a result, the seed-pesticide industry is taking advantage of new profit opportunities and raking in the cash.7
US farms use approximately 250 million pounds of glyphosate per year8, and many studies have detected glyphosate in soil, forests, animals, and water.9 The scale at which glyphosate is used raises many environmental concerns, and there are no signs of slowing down.
When a farm chooses to spray its crops with glyphosate, there is absolutely no way to ensure it won’t end up in other places. Spray drift, surface runoff, and soil contamination can transport glyphosate into neighboring fields and our water supply. Glyphosate spray drift can even damage susceptible crops.9Growing evidence links glyphosate exposure to changes in metabolism, growth, behavior, and reproduction for certain marine life and insects. Newer studies are also looking at the impact glyphosate has on microorganisms, which are key to understanding broader environmental impacts. For example, two studies in 2018 showed glyphosate could be targeting specialized gut bacteria in honey bees that help protect them from pathogens. Similar studies on earthworms and farm animals have also raised alarms about glyphosate’s effect on gut bacteria.10
Gut bacteria is only one concern. In 2019, scientists linked glyphosate to impaired cognitive abilities in honeybees.11 Research also showed impaired memory, movement, and aversive behavior changes in zebrafish.12
As Environmental Health News puts it: “... all chemical substances—even water or oxygen—can be toxic if there's too much of it for a biological system to handle.”
This is especially important to remember when it comes to glyphosate. Because of the sheer scale at which this herbicide is used, the industry’s endless arguments for its supposed safety are irrelevant. Glyphosate represents massive health and environmental concerns, both for people and the planet.
The One Degree Organic Foods survey showed 89% of consumers consider fruits and vegetables to be watch-out foods for pesticides, but only 49% are aware of pesticide use in the grains category.
The list below includes some of the worst offenders:13
- Sugar beets
Because glyphosate is absorbed by plants, you cannot wash it off or cook it out of your food.
Glyphosate use is forbidden in organic farming, but while choosing organic foods is a great place to start, it does not guarantee glyphosate-free food. Spray drift and runoff from neighboring crops can contaminate organic crops.
The best way to ensure your food is glyphosate-free is to look for non-glyphosate labeling. For example, every product you find at the Oven Door is BioChecked Non-Glyphosate program certified.
BioChecked is an independent certifier that conducts a yearly laboratory test to confirm a product meets a zero tolerance threshold for glyphosate. The test results must show the lowest possible limits of glyphosate residue, usually 0.01 parts per million.14
With evidence mounting against the use of glyphosate, it’s becoming increasingly important for awareness to grow. Glyphosate has been linked to cancer and researchers are sounding the alarm for environmental concerns.
As consumers, we can avoid glyphosate by choosing organic foods or, even better, choosing products that are certified non-glyphosate. Choosing brands that don’t use this herbicide is one way of driving change in the market. We can also spread awareness by talking about glyphosate and supporting food transparency.
1. Foods, O. D. O. (2020, September 21). While Nearly 75% Of North Americans Are Trying To Limit Pesticide Exposure From Food, Only 25% Are Aware Of Glyphosate. Cision PR Newswire. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/while-nearly-75-of-north-americans-are-trying-to-limit-pesticide-exposure-from-food-only-25-are-aware-of-glyphosate-301134591.html
2. Glyphosate General Fact Sheet. (2019, March). NPIC. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.html
3. Fuchs, B., Saikkonen, K., & Helander, M. (2021). Glyphosate-Modulated Biosynthesis Driving Plant Defense and Species Interactions. Trends in Plant Science, 26(4), 312–323. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2020.11.004
4. What is Tryptophan? (2021, February). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/tryptophan
5. IARC Monograph on Glyphosate – IARC. (2015). International Agency for Cancer Research. https://www.iarc.who.int/featured-news/media-centre-iarc-news-glyphosate/
6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2020. Toxicological profile for Glyphosate. (Draft for Public Comment). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp214.pdf
7. Benbrook, C.M. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years. Environ Sci Eur 24, 24 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/2190-4715-24-24
8. Benbrook, C. M. (2016, February 2). Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally. Environmental Sciences Europe. https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0#citeas
9. Kanissery, R., Gairhe, B., Kadyampakeni, D., Batuman, O., & Alferez, F. (2019). Glyphosate: Its Environmental Persistence and Impact on Crop Health and Nutrition. Plants (Basel, Switzerland), 8(11), 499. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants8110499
10. Konkel, L. (2021, March 8). Ecological impacts emerge. EHN. https://www.ehn.org/whats-the-worlds-most-widely-used-herbicide-doing-to-tiny-critters-2631750527/ecological-impacts-emerge
11. Farina, W. M., Balbuena, M. S., Herbert, L. T., Mengoni Goñalons, C., & Vázquez, D. E. (2019). Effects of the Herbicide Glyphosate on Honey Bee Sensory and Cognitive Abilities: Individual Impairments with Implications for the Hive. Insects, 10(10), 354. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects10100354
12. Bridi, D., Altenhofen, S., Gonzalez, J. B., Reolon, G. K., & Bonan, C. D. (2017). Glyphosate and Roundup® alter morphology and behavior in zebrafish. Toxicology, 392, 32–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tox.2017.10.007
13. Matthews, H. L. B. A. (2020, December 16). Why Glyphosate is Dangerous, and How to Avoid Eating it. Gene Food. https://www.mygenefood.com/blog/why-glyphosate-is-dangerous-and-how-to-avoid-eating-it/
14. A. (n.d.). Non Glyphosate CertifiedTM – Non GMO and Non Glyphosate Certification. Copyright Non GMO Certification - GMO Free Certification- All Rights Reserved. https://biochecked.com/glyphosate-free-certified/