Glyphosate: Spray or Stay Away?

Glyphosate: Spray or Stay Away?

Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide that's been sparking debates and dividing opinions over the years. It has been celebrated for knocking out relentless weeds; however, implications regarding its potential health and environmental impacts are too concerning to overlook.

What You Need to Know About Glyphosate

Glyphosate is a synthetic herbicide and the active ingredient in many commercial weed killers, with Roundup being the most well-known brand. It was first commercialized by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) in the 1970s and quickly gained popularity due to its effectiveness in killing a wide range of weeds, while being deemed relatively safe for most crops [1].

Today, glyphosate is used extensively in agriculture, landscaping, and home gardening. It is primarily employed as a non-selective herbicide, meaning it can kill most plants it comes into contact with. Farmers often apply glyphosate to genetically modified crops that are engineered to withstand the herbicide, making weed control more efficient. Plus, it is often used as a pre-harvest desiccant on certain crops, such as wheat and oats, to speed up the drying process before harvesting.

This all sounds pretty good, right? Perhaps in theory, but let’s take a closer look at how this weed-killer affects our food supply.

Commonly Contaminated Foods

Residues from glyphosate are commonly found in certain crops, especially those that are genetically modified to be glyphosate-resistant or that are treated with the herbicide for weed control. Foods that are more likely to have glyphosate residues include:

  • Genetically Modified Crops: Many GMO crops such as soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola, are genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate application. However, these crops are more likely to contain glyphosate residues since they are often heavily sprayed with the herbicide.
  • Grains: Wheat, oats, and other grains are sometimes sprayed with glyphosate as a desiccant to speed up the drying process before harvesting. As a result, glyphosate residues can be detected in many of these grain-based products.
  • Legumes: Peas and lentils, especially when grown in fields alongside glyphosate-resistant crops, may also have glyphosate residues.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Glyphosate is used for weed control in orchards, vineyards, and vegetable fields. As a result, certain fruits and vegetables may also have some glyphosate residues.

Fortunately, glyphosate is generally not allowed to be used in organic foods. While the risk of contamination is never zero and there may occasional trace residues, these amounts are much, much lower than in non-organic products. Regulatory standards for organic certification require rigorous testing and adherence to strict guidelines to minimize pesticide exposure, including glyphosate.

Limiting Glyphosate Exposure

Here are some steps you can begin taking to reduce your exposure to glyphosate:

  1. Choose Organic: Opt for organic fruits, vegetables, and grains whenever possible. Organic farming practices prohibit the use of synthetic herbicides like glyphosate, reducing the risk of exposure.
  2. Wash Produce Thoroughly: Washing fruits and vegetables under running water can help remove surface residues, including potential glyphosate residues.
  3. Diversify Your Diet: Consume a varied diet, incorporating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. This can help minimize exposure to any specific pesticide or herbicide.
  4. Buy Non-GMO Foods: Choose non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods, especially for crops like soy, corn, and canola, which are commonly genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate.
  5. Support Local and Sustainable Agriculture: Purchase produce from local farmers who prioritize sustainable and natural pest control methods, reducing the reliance on synthetic herbicides.
  6. Grow Your Own: Consider growing some of your fruits and vegetables at home in a garden or small pots. This way, you have more control over what goes into the soil and what you consume.
  7. Peel or Trim Outer Layers: For certain fruits and vegetables with higher surface residues, like apples and leafy greens, consider peeling or trimming the outer layers.
  8. Avoid Pre-Harvest Desiccants: Be cautious of foods that may have been treated with glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant, such as wheat and oats. Look for products labeled as non-desiccated or free of pre-harvest treatments.
  9. Check Ingredient Sources: Be mindful of processed foods that may contain ingredients derived from glyphosate-resistant crops, such as soybean oil or corn syrup.
  10. Stay Informed: Keep abreast of the latest research and regulatory updates regarding glyphosate and other herbicides to make informed choices about your food purchases.

Long-Term Health Risks

 The long-term health risks associated with glyphosate exposure are a topic of ongoing scientific research and debate. While regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have deemed glyphosate safe for use at typical exposure levels, some studies and health organizations have raised concerns about potential health effects. Here are some of the main long-term health risks that have been studied:
Cancer: One of the most significant controversies surrounding glyphosate is its potential link to cancer. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans." They based this classification on studies that suggested a possible association between glyphosate exposure and an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma [2]. However, other regulatory agencies have concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk at typical exposure levels. While there are no solid studies for glyphosate causing cancer, it is a potential issue to remain aware of until more evidence is found.
Endocrine Disruption: There is some evidence suggesting that glyphosate might have endocrine-disrupting properties [3]. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with the hormonal system in humans and animals, potentially leading to adverse health effects. However, more research is needed to understand its potential impact on human endocrine function.
Respiratory and Allergic Reactions: Some studies have linked glyphosate exposure to respiratory issues, lung inflammation, and allergic reactions [4].
Gut Microbiome Disruption: Glyphosate has been shown to have an impact on the gut microbiome, the diverse community of microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract [5]. Disruptions in the gut microbiome have been associated with various health issues, including immune system disorders and metabolic disturbances.
Reproductive Effects: There is some evidence from animal studies suggesting that glyphosate exposure might act as a reproductive toxicant for both male and female systems [6].
Genotoxicity: Glyphosate has been studied for its potential genotoxic effects, which means it may cause damage to DNA, potentially leading to mutations and increased cancer risk [7]. The results of genotoxicity studies have been mixed, and more research is needed to establish a conclusive link.
Staying aware of what is in your food helps you to maintain a cautious consumption and make healthier decisions for what enters your body. At Potion, that is our goal - to help you become more health conscious and make choices that will benefit your body, mind, and spirit.