USDA Claims Pesticide Residues in Food Is Safe—Here’s Why They’re Wrong
January 27, 2015
By Dr. Mercola
Research has demonstrated that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are neurotoxic, capable of damaging your nervous system. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides are also carcinogenic.
All of these toxins are permitted on conventional farms, and any number of them can end up on your plate when you conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables. The increased use of genetically engineered plants1 and soil insecticides also increases the chemical load in food—particularly processed foods.
The answer, of course, is to limit your exposure as much as possible, giving your body a chance to eliminate the toxins you do inadvertently ingest. Certain foods, such as fermented foods, can also help detoxify some of these chemicals.
Yet despite all the known risks, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) insists pesticide residues on food are no cause for concern.
According to the agency’s latest report, more than half of all foods tested last year had detectable levels of pesticide residues, but most, they claim, are within the “safe” range. However, there are a number of factors you need to be aware of before you swallow such assurances hook, line, and sinker...
Most notably, as reported by Reuters,2 the USDA does not test for one of the most pervasive and one of the most harmful agricultural chemicals of all, namely glyphosate:
“As has been the case with past analyses, the USDA said it did not test this past year for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide and the world's most widely used herbicide.Meanwhile, one of the most recent studies3 investigating the effect glyphosate on Americans’ health noted that glyphosate interferes with many metabolic processes in both plants and animals.
A USDA spokesman who asked not to be quoted said that the test measures required for glyphosate are ‘extremely expensive... to do on an regular basis’...
Many genetically modified crops can be sprayed directly with glyphosate, and some consumer and health groups fear glyphosate residues in foods are harmful to human health, even though the government says the pesticide is considered safe.”
The researchers also note that previous studies show that glyphosate “disrupts the endocrine system4 and the balance of gut bacteria... damages DNA and is a driver of mutations that lead to cancer.”
The researchers searched US government databases for GE crop data, glyphosate application data, and disease epidemiological data, and analyses revealed “highly significant” correlations between glyphosate applications and the following health problems among the US population:
According to the authors: “The significance and strength of the correlations show that the effects of glyphosate and GE crops on human health should be further investigated.”
Hypertension Stroke Diabetes Obesity Lipoprotein metabolism disorder Alzheimer’s disease Senile dementia Parkinson’s disease Multiple sclerosis Autism Inflammatory bowel disease Intestinal infections End stage renal disease Acute kidney failure Thyroid cancer Liver cancer Bladder cancer Pancreatic cancer Kidney cancer Myeloid leukemia
Glyphosate May Be Worse Than DDT
According to Dr. Don Huber, an expert in an area of science that relates to the toxicity of genetically engineered (GE) foods, glyphosate may be even more toxic than DDT—a devastating chemical that, just like glyphosate, was once proclaimed to be “safe enough to eat.”5
Just last year, new research implicated DDT in the development of Alzheimer’s, decades after exposure, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re heading down the same road with glyphosate.
Dr. Seneff’s groundbreaking research published in June 2013 suggests that glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm.
Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway IS present in bacteria, and that’s the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both humans and animals.
Dr. Huber has also presented evidence6,7 linking glyphosate to Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and honeybee starvation.8 Glyphosate has also been found to be highly toxic to the soil surrounding a plant’s roots (known as the rhizosphere), woodland plants, amphibians, fish, aquatic environments, and mammals9--causing reproductive problems and disrupting the endocrine system.
Why Even Non-GMO Crops Are Also More Toxic These Days
Many leading authorities like Dr. Huber and Dr. Stephanie Seneff have started bringing attention to the practice of desiccation—a practice in which glyphosate is applied to the grain shortly prior to harvesting. Interestingly enough, this causes the grain to release more seeds. The Washington Blog10 recently ran an article giving an excellent overview of the process. Desiccating11 non-organic wheat crops with glyphosate began about 15 years ago.
Glyphosate desiccation is also done on barley, beans, peas, peanuts, sugar cane,12 oats, canola, flax, and lentils,13 just to name a few. Roundup (glyphosate) is used as a desiccant at harvest on about 160 conventional crops.14
Needless to say, desiccated crops tend to be more contaminated with glyphosate. A large percentage of processed foods are made with wheat, and the practice of desiccating wheat with glyphosate appears to be strongly correlated with the rapid rise in celiac disease. Dr. Seneff’s research shows that glyphosate destroys the villi in your gut, which reduces your ability to absorb vitamins and minerals.
Wheat also contains gliadin, which is difficult to break down. Normally, a reaction takes place that builds connections between different proteins in the wheat. But glyphosate prevents that process from occurring, resulting in wheat that is highly undigestible. Dr. Seneff and her co-researcher Dr. Anthony Samsel believe the glyphosate may attach to the gliadin as a consequence of a chemical reaction. The end result is that your body develops an immune reaction. As noted in their study:15
“[G]ut dysbiosis, brought on by exposure to glyphosate, plays a crucial role in the development of celiac disease. Many CYP enzymes are impaired in association with celiac disease, and we show that glyphosate's known suppression of CYP enzyme activity in plants and animals plausibly explains this effect in humans.”
Glyphosate Readily Accumulates in GE Crops
Recent research16 has also shown that there are significant compositional differences between genetically engineered (GE) soybeans and non-GE varieties, and that glyphosate readily accumulates in the former. Contrary to industry claims, the study also found that they differ in terms of nutritional quality, with organic soybeans having the healthiest nutritional profile.
According to the authors, “This study rejects that genetically modified soy is “substantially equivalent” to non-GM soybeans.” The study in question investigated contamination levels and nutritional contents of three varieties of Iowa-grown soybeans: Roundup Ready soybeans; non-GE, conventional soybeans grown using Roundup herbicide; and organic soybeans, grown without agricultural chemicals, and found that:
Similar results were found in a 2012 nutritional analysis of GE corn, which was found to contain 13 ppm of glyphosate, compared to none in non-GMO corn. When you consider that Americans eat an average of 193 pounds of genetically engineered foods each year,17 the issue of glyphosate contamination is undoubtedly a very important one. In a 2014 article for The Ecologist,18 two of the researchers point out that these levels are actually double, or more, of what Monsanto itself has referred to as “extreme levels:”
- On average GE soy contained 11.9 parts per million (ppm) of glyphosate
- The highest residue level found was 20.1 ppm
- No residues of either kind were found in the conventional non-GE and organic varieties
“Monsanto (manufacturer of glyphosate) has claimed that residues of glyphosate in genetically modified (GM) soy are lower than in conventional soybeans, where glyphosate residues have been measured up to 16-17 mg/kg (Monsanto 1999). These residues, found in non-GM plants, likely must have been due to the practice of spraying before harvest (for desiccation). Another claim of Monsanto's has been that residue levels of up to 5.6 mg/kg in GM-soy represent ‘...extreme levels, and far higher than those typically found.’ (Monsanto 1999).” [Emphasis mine]It’s quite crucial to understand that glyphosate contamination in GE crops is systemic, meaning it is present in every cell of the plant, from root to tip. It’s not just an issue of topical contamination—although that certainly adds to the level of contamination. Normally, you need to thoroughly wash your produce to remove topical residues, but you cannot remove glyphosate from GE produce, as it has been absorbed into the cells of the plant. And neither can food and animal feed manufacturers who use GE ingredients in their products...
Amid Concerns of Safety, EPA Raised Allowable Levels for Glyphosate in Food
All of this points to the importance of testing for and restricting glyphosate residues in food, yet that is NOT being done, ostensibly due to cost. It also brings up another important point, which is that despite rapidly rising concerns about safety, in 2013 the EPA quietly went ahead and raised the allowable levels of glyphosate in food—and by significant amounts19, 20 to boot. Allowable levels in oilseed crops such as soy were doubled, from 20 ppm to 40 ppm. So all of a sudden, that makes “extreme levels” appear to be on the lower end of the allowable spectrum!
It also raised the levels of permissible glyphosate contamination in other foods—many of which were raised to 15-25 times previous levels! Farmers are also ramping up their usage of the chemical due to the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant weeds. It’s worth noting that, for years, pro-GMO advocates claimed that genetic engineering would lead to reduced reliance on toxic agricultural chemicals. Now, the data shows us the exact converse has happened.
Lies, Lies, and More Lies
We were promised that GMOs would result in LESS pesticide use, but as noted in a 2012 article by Tom Philpott,21 Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology “has called forth a veritable monsoon of herbicides, both in terms of higher application rates for Roundup, and... growing use of other, more-toxic herbicides.” Philpott’s article includes eye-opening statistics compiled by Chuck Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Benbrook discovered that:
- Overall, GE technology drove up herbicide use by 527 million pounds (about 11 percent) between 1996 (when Roundup Ready crops were initially released) and 2011
- Herbicide use dropped by about two percent between 1996 and 1999, but shortly thereafter, as weeds began developing resistance against the chemical, application rates skyrocketed
- In 2002, glyphosate use on Roundup Ready soybeans rose by 21 percent. Overall, American farmers increased their use of glyphosate by 19 million pounds that year
- By 2011, farmers growing Roundup Ready crops (corn, soy, and cotton) used 24 percent more Roundup than farmers planting non-GE versions of the same crop, because by that time, glyphosate-resistance had become the norm. Farmers also began resorting to older, more toxic herbicides like 2,4-D
‘Inert’ Ingredients in Pesticides May Also Be Profoundly Toxic
A third issue that is completely ignored by the USDA when they claim pesticide residues in food are within safe levels is the fact that “inert” ingredients in herbicidal formulations are not necessarily inactive. On the contrary, synergistic effects between active and so-called inactive ingredients are a hidden source of toxicity that is widely overlooked.
As discussed in a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives,22 it’s important to realize that the term “inert ingredient” does NOT mean that it is biologically or toxicologically harmless. When you see “inert” or “inactive ingredients” listed on the label of a pesticide or herbicide, it only means that those ingredients will not harm pests or weeds. This is how federal law classifies “inert” pesticide ingredients.23 And while a chemical may not kill a pest or weed, it may have a profound impact on human biology.
For example, one 2012 study24 revealed that inert ingredients like ethoxylated adjuvants in glyphosate-based herbicides are “active principles of human cell toxicity." (On a side note, an “ethoxylated” compound is a chemical that has been produced using the carcinogen ethylene oxide.25 The ethoxylation process also produces the carcinogenic byproduct 1,4-dioxane.) The study found that liver, embryonic, and placental cell lines exposed to various herbicide formulations for 24 hours at doses as low as 1 part per million (ppm), had adverse effects.26 According to the authors:27
“Here we demonstrate that all formulations are more toxic than glyphosate, and we separated experimentally three groups of formulations differentially toxic according to their concentrations in ethoxylated adjuvants.Perhaps most disturbing of all, the researchers claim that cell damage and even cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated crops, as well as lawns and gardens where Roundup is applied for weed control. They also suspect that28 Roundup might interfere with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal fetal development, low birth weights, or miscarriages.
Among them, POE-15 clearly appears to be the most toxic principle against human cells... It begins to be active with negative dose-dependent effects on cellular respiration and membrane integrity between 1 and 3ppm, at environmental/occupational doses. We demonstrate in addition that POE-15 induces necrosis when its first micellization process occurs, by contrast to glyphosate which is known to promote endocrine disrupting effects after entering cells.
Altogether, these results challenge the establishment of guidance values such as the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate, when these are mostly based on a long term in vivo test of glyphosate alone. Since pesticides are always used with adjuvants that could change their toxicity, the necessity to assess their whole formulations as mixtures becomes obvious. This challenges the concept of active principle of pesticides for non-target species.” [Emphasis mine]
FDA Tests Less Than One-Tenth of One Percent of All Imported Fruits and Vegetables
The monitoring of pesticide residue by the FDA and USDA received harsh criticism in a recent report created by the General Accounting Office (GAO). In its report,29 titled: “Food Safety––FDA and USDA Should Strengthen Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programs and Further Disclose Limitations,” the GAO suggests a number of major changes to the two agencies’ pesticide monitoring programs. Greater sample sizes are needed, the report says, and special attention should be paid to pesticides that already have established EPA tolerance levels, rather than those that do not. The GAO also calls for greater transparency in annual test reports.
As reported by Food Safety Magazine:30
“Such changes could eventually reveal whether or not regulatory violations are rampant throughout each agencies’ pesticide residue testing. Over the years, established testing programs have shown few incidences of violation. Also, a helping hand from Congress might be necessary as the suggested changes would require additional funding and resources. Additional findings include:
- The FDA tests less than one-tenth of one percent of all imported fruits and vegetables. Less than one percent of domestic fruits and vegetables are tested. The small sample sizes suggest that results that may not be ‘statistically valid.’
- The FDA does not test foods for many pesticides that have strict residue limits set by the EPA. This lack of testing, according to the GAO, should be stated in the FDA’s annual reports.
- Testing by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service were found to be statistically valid. But like the FDA, the FSIS also doesn’t test for pesticides with established tolerances.”
Avoiding Toxic Food Is Imperative for Optimal Health
The chemical technology industry, spearheaded by Monsanto, has managed to turn food into a literal poison... Glyphosate, which we now know systemically contaminates the plant and cannot be washed off, has a number of devastating biological effects, including the following:
Ideally, you’d be best off opting for products bearing the USDA 100% organic label when buying processed foods in order to avoid exposure to agricultural chemicals, which certainly are not limited to Roundup. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the “natural” label with organic standards however. The “natural” label is not based on any standards and is frequently misused by sellers of GE products.
Nutritional deficiencies, as glyphosate immobilizes certain nutrients and alters the nutritional composition of the treated crop Disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (these are essential amino acids not produced in your body that must be supplied via your diet) Increased toxin exposure (this includes high levels of glyphosate and formaldehyde in the food itself) Impairment of sulfate transport and sulfur metabolism; sulfate deficiency Systemic toxicity—a side effect of extreme disruption of microbial function throughout your body; beneficial microbes in particular, allowing for overgrowth of pathogens Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, leaky gut, food allergies such as gluten intolerance) Enhancement of damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and environmental toxins as a result of glyphosate shutting down the function of detoxifying enzymes Creation of ammonia (a byproduct created when certain microbes break down glyphosate), which can lead to brain inflammation associated with autism and Alzheimer’s disease
Growers and manufacturers of organic products bearing the USDA seal, on the other hand, have to meet the strictest standards of any of the currently available organic labels. That said, my personal recommendation is to forgo processed fare altogether. Instead, pick up a good cookbook, and start cooking from scratch using whole organic ingredients. This really is the key to optimal health. Meats need to be grass-fed or pastured to make sure the animals were not fed GE corn or soy feed.
You’d also be wise to stop using Roundup around your home, where children and pets can come into contact with it simply by walking across the area. Here are some great resources to obtain wholesome organic food. Eating locally produced organic food will not only support your family’s health, it will also protect the environment from harmful chemical pollutants and the inadvertent spread of genetically engineered seeds and chemical-resistant weeds and pests.
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.
Help Support GMO Labeling
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—Monsanto’s Evil Twin—is pulling out all the stops to keep you in the dark about what’s in your food. For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture.
Finally public opinion around the biotech industry's contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We're fighting back.
The insanity has gone far enough, which is why I encourage you to boycott every single product owned by members of the GMA, including natural and organic brands. More than 80 percent of our support comes from individual consumers like you, who understand that real change comes from the grassroots.
Thankfully, we have organizations like the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to fight back against these corporate giants. So please, fight for your right to know what’s in your food and help support the GMO labeling movement by making a donation today.
Internet Resources Where You Can Learn More
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Please make a donation to help OCA fight for GMO labeling.