For those who choose to eat organic food, the concerns about insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides are quite relevant. For many years, the presence of these sprays on conventionally grown crops was the primary concern; today, it goes far beyond the residue of toxic “‘cides” on our food. With the increase in GM food production, these chemicals are now present in our food. For instance, herbicide resistant GM plants (like Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops) are engineered to specifically resist the herbicide itself, and are sprayed liberally to kill the surrounding weeds. In the process of growth, the plant takes the chemical ingredient of the herbicide—as well as any other surfactant sprayed on it—into its cellular structure. Therefore, no matter how well you wash that genetically modified veggie, you will still be consuming the chemicals.
Recently, reports on glyphosate have become increasingly prevalent in the news. A recent announcement by the World Health Organization that it is ‘probably carcinogenic’ has, in particular, sparked coverage of this herbicide’s potential toxicity. While much of the research on glyphosate remains lacking due to the strong arm of omnipresent agribusiness, some research coming out of Central and South America shows that the relatively uncontrolled use of glyphosate-based herbicides there has led to significant increases in birth defects, kidney toxicity, and cancer.
Furthermore, many scientists have expressed concern about its environmental effects. In a 2009 volume of the European Journal of Agronomy, the authors write about the concerns related to widespread use of glyphosate in agriculture. The article states that the continuous increase of glyphosate can “significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense…and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.” The authors also write that glyphosate “can have serious consequences for sustainable production of a wide range of susceptible crops.” They go on to warn readers that “ignoring potential…side effects of any chemical, especially used as heavily as glyphosate, may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious…[compromising] not only agricultural sustainability, but also the health and well-being of animals and humans.”
Perhaps just as alarming is the fact that the EPA has steadily increased the allowable concentration limit of glyphosate in food, as the weeds are becoming more and more resistant to it. As a result, the amount of herbicides introduced into conventionally grown foods has increased enormously. In fact, a recent study has confirmed that glyphosate is widespread in foods around the world, including corn and soy products, as well as honey. While the two most heavily engineered crops unsurprisingly contain glyphosate, the amount of the chemical found in honey—even organic honey—is definitely cause for concern. After all, bees pollinate a variety of crops, many of which might be treated with herbicides. Interestingly, the results of the study showed that honey from countries that permit GM crops (such as the U.S.) contained significantly higher levels of glyphosate than honey from countries that limit or prohibit GM crops. As the USDA and FDA are unlikely to regulate glyphosate without a serious fight from consumers, it seems that we are charged with the mission of continuously and consistently voting—at the local and national levels, as well as with our dollars—against the use of toxic chemicals in our food system.
Johal and Huber. “Glyphosate Effects on Diseases of Plants. European Journal of Agronomy. 2009.
“PA Researchers Discover Glyphosate Herbicide in Honey and Soy Sauce.” Sustainable Pulse. 12 Feb 2015.
Schubert, Dave. “The Coming Food Disaster.” CNN.com. 28 Jan 2015.
Walton, Alice G. “WHO Says Monsanto ‘Roundup’ Ingredient is ‘Probably Carcinogenic’. Are They Right?” Forbes. 21 Mar 2015.
Warren and Pisarenko. “Argentines Link Health Problems to Agrochemicals.” Associated Press. 20 Oct 2013