Quantcast
Food

FDA Suspends Testing Foods for Glyphosate Residues

By Carey Gillam

Government testing for residues of glyphosate has been put on hold, slowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) first-ever endeavor to get a handle on just how much of the controversial chemical is making its way into U.S. foods.

Getting solid data on glyphosate's presence in the American food supply is more important than ever as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on the future use of the herbicide.

The FDA, the nation's chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a "special assignment" earlier this year to analyze certain foods for residues of the weed killer after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the key ingredient in Monsanto's flagship Roundup.

Glyphosate is under particular scrutiny after the World Health Organization's cancer experts declared last year that the chemical is a probable human carcinogen. Several private groups and nonprofits have been doing their own testing and have been finding glyphosate residues in varying levels in a range of foods, raising consumer concerns about the pesticide's presence the American diet.

The FDA's residue testing for glyphosate was combined with a broader herbicides analysis program the agency set in motion in February of this year. But the glyphosate testing has been particularly challenging for the FDA. The agency was finally forced to put the glyphosate residue testing part of the work plan on hold amid confusion, disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency's multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources. Equipment issues have also been a problem, with some labs citing a need for more sensitive instruments, sources at the FDA said.

FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the testing suspension and said the agency is not sure when it will resume.

"As testing for glyphosate will expand to several locations, we are currently working to ensure that the methods are validated for use in these labs. As soon as the validation is completed, testing for glyphosate will resume," she said. "We cannot speculate on timing at this point."

Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also been analyzing foods for 2,4-D residues and other "acid herbicides," according to documents obtained from the FDA. The FDA's Office of Compliance explained that the need to start such testing was partly related to the cancer concerns about glyphosate and expectations for a sharp rise in the use of 2,4-D.

The FDA work detail calls for the examination of roughly 1,340 food samples, 82 percent domestic and 18 percent imported. The foods are to be collected from warehouse and retail stores only and are to include a variety of cereal grains, vegetables and non-flavored, whole milk and eggs. Documents obtained from the agency through the Freedom of Information Act show the agency has been testing corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, sugar beets, rice and even samples of yellow popcorn and "organic white popcorn."

McSeveney said glyphosate residues were only being analyzed for soy, corn, milk, eggs and popcorn, while the other foods are being tested for residues of other herbicides.

Earlier this year, one of the agency's senior chemists analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported his results to the agency. Some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. The U.S. has no legal tolerance for glyphosate in honey, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said recently it may set one because of the FDA findings. However, according to McSeveney, the results for honey and oatmeal are not considered to be a part of the official assignment.

With the testing on hold, it is not clear when the agency might have final results on the glyphosate residue analysis. McSeveney said preliminary results showed no violations of legal tolerance levels allowed for glyphosate in the foods tested. She did not provide details on what, if any, levels of residue were found. Tolerance levels are set by the EPA for a variety of pesticides expected to be found in foods. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producer.

Monsanto said earlier this year that no data has ever indicated residue levels of more than a fraction of allowable levels and it is confident FDA testing will reaffirm the safety of its herbicide.

Though FDA annually tests domestic and imported foods for residues of other pesticides, it never tested for glyphosate before. It has not routinely tested for 2,4-D either, a fact also criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Unlike glyphosate, however, there has been some monitoring of 2,4-D residues in selected food items in the past. That monitoring showed only very low levels of 2,4-D—less than 5 parts per billion in ready-to-eat foods, according to the FDA.

The FDA testing for 2,4-D residues comes as the use of 2,4-D with food crops is expected to start increasing due to the commercialization of new formulated herbicide products that combine glyphosate with 2.4-D. These new herbicide products are designed to be used on new herbicide-tolerant crops. Safety questions have been raised about the combination. But the EPA just gave a green light Nov. 1 to a Dow AgroSciences' herbicide combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. The new products are intended to counter widespread weed resistance to glyphosate.

The agrichemical industry asserts that residues of glyphosate, 2,4-D and the array of other chemicals used in modern-day agriculture do not pose a danger to human health, but the lack of testing to determine actual residue levels of some of the most-used chemicals, has been troubling to many consumer groups.

Getting solid data on glyphosate's presence in the American food supply is more important than ever as the EPA finalizes a risk assessment for glyphosate and tries to determine if any limits should be put on the future use of the herbicide. The FDA work covers only a few foods, but is a long-needed, good first step. Consumers can only hope the testing resumes soon.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
The turkey ranch in Sonora is where Diestel keeps its pasture-raised birds. Jeanne Cooper

Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy. Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate

Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Martin Schulz / Flickr

Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—"denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits near the Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. Greenpeacce

Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change, challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement, according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!