Glyphosate: A Hidden Toxin in Our Food… And It’s Totally Legal
When I first began grocery shopping, I thought I was doing the right thing by simply buying “Organic.”
Initially, I paid no attention to where any of it was coming from, be it near or far, nor whether or not it was in season.
A function of how spoiled we are in our country, with access* to literally any fruit, vegetable, meat or fish, any time of year, regardless of any of those would naturally have grown or lived in the same, local areas that we do.
As I became more educated, I began to look deeper than the Organic Certification into where the produce was coming from, just as I learned about the importance of making sure my beef was grass fed (and finished), fish was wild and local and so on.
Then, as I became a vendor in the local farmer’s markets and immersed myself in learning about and supporting what was being sold, I took it one more step by purchasing nearly everything at the farmer’s markets, save the occasional trip to the ‘regular’ store because I needed toilet roll or toothpaste.
But then it became even more complex; some vendors had signs indicating they were “Organic”, while others did not.
Knowing that simply having an organic certification is far from enough, I began to wonder what else might be in the food I was buying for myself and my family, since the labeling (and the legislature) seemed intentionally so confusing.
And then I began to learn about Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, most widely used herbicide in agriculture.
Monsanto developed and patented the use of glyphosate to kill weeds in the early 1970s and first brought it to market in 1974, under the Roundup brandname (1)
I’d never thought much about Roundup, other than having heard mention of it as a chemical weed killer.
I pictured small, gallon-sized containers of this product I’d seen at the large ‘home and garden” shops and homeowners popping into buy some in order to treat annoying weeds that might pop up in their small, backyard gardens.
I knew that it sounded toxic; our home gardening teacher had taught us that much, but I reasoned that if I was buying and eating only what I then considered to be well-sourced produce, it wasn’t of concern to my health, or my family’s.
To say I was ignorant is a gross understatement.
While one might argue that eating a diet completely devoid of processed and refined foods puts me in a different demographic that someone following a typical ‘SAD’ (Standard American Diet), in which an average of 70% of the diet consists of “food” products, classified as ultra-processed (2), to make the assumption that glyphosate wouldn’t be affecting me would be far from accurate.
Because of the impact it has on the very soil our food is grown in as well as the food itself.
Over the last decade, about 6.1 billion kilograms of the herbicide glyphosate have been sprayed on the world’s farms, gardens and public spaces. Although previously thought harmless, in 2015 it was classified as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by cancer experts at the World Health Organization (3).
Glyphosate alters the soil texture and microbial diversity by reducing the microbial richness and increasing the population of phytopathogenic fungi (4).
“In the 1990s, Monsanto launched their genetically modified Roundup Ready® soybeans and carried out a very active and aggressive campaign to get more farmers to use these seeds. The purpose of these seeds is to allow everything else around them to be sprayed with pesticides without killing the cash crop. Roundup® could then be used liberally on fields without the GMO crops dying. Over time, the emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds has become widespread, and this has led to farmers using greater volumes of Roundup® to try to maintain crop yields.” (5).
So… the GMO crops can thrive, while everything else (including the soil ) is degraded and killed.
And to top it all off, we’re ingesting this chemical, and it’s far from being without consequence: Glyphosate is linked to cancer as the chemical is an endocrine disruptor in humans, it causes hemolysis and hemoglobin oxidation in human blood cells and even at low levels, glyphosate may increase the risk of oxidative damage to DNA, raising the likelihood of cellular mutations (6).
So how can we avoid this toxin?
Best scenario? Learn to grow our own foods. While it may seem like an impossible stretch, it wasn’t that long ago that each family growing their own food was the norm. And with an estimated 35% of U.S. households, or 42 million households total, grew vegetables, fruits, and other foods in 2021, an increase of 6 million from five years prior (7), it’s something that clearly is not that far fetched.
Next best? Shop locally, as in, at your local farmer’s markets or with your local CSA, and ASK the questions. What questions? First up is the most obvious: ask if glyphosate is used. If your question is greeted with a blank stare, that may be your answer right there. In my own personal experience, having these questions directly with the grower has proven incredibly effective.
If neither are options you can integrate right now, at the very least, there are some foods you can choose to avoid which are most likely to have high levels of glyphosate.
Look for products that feature the Detox Project’s “Glyphosate Residue Free” label. This label offers extra assurance that a product does not contain glyphosate (8).
The EWG offers a free guide on their site on what foods are the worst offenders (9). Some of the well-known brands listed on their site include Mueller’s, Barilla, Kellogg’s and General Mills.
Glyphosate was also found in 39 out of 44 restaurant food samples tested at chains like Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s, McDonalds, Olive Garden, and more. The highest glyphosate levels were found in conventional “Whole Grain” or “Multigrain” foods, usually considered to be a healthy choice by consumers (10).
You get the picture, and may not be surprised at some of the highly processed and oh-so-readily available ‘foods’ (if we still want to call them that) are some of the worst culprits.
Keep in mind, though, that even seemingly healthy foods like some fruits and vegetables, as well as oat-based cereals and product, further underlining the importance of knowing where your food comes from and making the most informed decision you can.
Dr. Mark Hyman, Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and bestselling author said, “The unregulated use of GMO seeds and the herbicide glyphosate is a significant uncontrolled experiment on the human population. Glyphosate is being used in increasing quantities and shows up in our food and water. It has been linked to cancer, disturbances in the microbiome and the depletion of our bodies’ ability to detoxify.” (11)
While it may seem dire, the ray of light is that if we start to re-take control of our food supply, we can slowly begin to create health at the most fundamental level, though the very food we grow and then eat.
There are exciting ways to get involved, in your community, such as programs like The Market Gardener Institute, which offers an online course that you can do at your own pace. (12)
Do we have a long way to go? Yes, absolutely, and there are millions who are far from being in a place of being able to start growing their own food tomorrow, whether due to economic or other practical issues.
However, whatever small step we can each take NOW will be a enough to start the momentum.
access in general, not access to all superseding socioeconomic barriers; for the purpose of this blog, just a statement that in the US, we have food coming in from everywhere