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 ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
The Revelator

Interactive Map: Air Pollution in 2100

By Dipika Kadaba

Having a little trouble breathing lately? That's no surprise. Air pollution is already bad in many parts of the country, and climate change is only going to make it worse. Even though many industries are reducing their emissions, a warming climate could actually offset these reductions by intensifying the rates of chemical reactions and accumulation of pollutants in the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
ddukang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good for You? A Doctor Weighs In

By Gabriel Neal

When my brother and I were kids back in the '80s, we loved going to Long John Silver's.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Dumpster Debacle Distracts From Serious Spike in Whale Deaths

This week, a video of a failed attempt to put a dead, 4,000-pound whale into a tiny dumpster made the rounds on the internet, garnering chuckles and comparisons to Peter Griffin forklifting and impaling a beached sperm whale on Family Guy.

The juvenile minke whale washed up on Jenness Beach in Rye, New Hampshire on Monday morning, NBC 10 Boston reported. It was found with entanglement wounds, so researchers with the Seacoast Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted to move the carcass from the beach to a lab for a necropsy to study its death.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Muir Woods, which costs $10 for entry, will have free entry on Sept. 22. m01229 / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Visit Any National Park for Free This Saturday to Celebrate 25th National Public Lands Day

If you're stuck for plans this weekend, we suggest escaping your city or town for the great outdoors.

This Saturday marks the 25th National Public Lands Day, organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
A glacier flows towards East Antarctica. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / CC BY 2.0

Temperatures Possible This Century Could Melt Parts of East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Raise Sea Levels 10+ Feet

A section of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that contains three to four meters (approximately 10 to 13 feet) of potential sea level rise could melt if temperatures rise to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels, a study published in Nature Wednesday found.

Researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Queensland, and other institutions in New Zealand, Japan and Spain looked at marine sediments to assess the behavior of the Wilkes Subglacial Basin during warmer periods of the Pleistocene and found evidence of melting when temperatures in Antarctica were at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for periods of 2,500 years or more.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Oil well in North Dakota. Tim Evanson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pipeline Leaks 63,840 Gallons of Produced Water in North Dakota

A pipeline released 63,840 gallons (1,520 barrels) of produced water that contaminated rangeland in Dunn County, North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune reported, citing officials with the North Dakota Department of Health.

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and can contain drilling chemicals if fracking was used.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights
Residents stand in a long queue to fill water containers on May 27 in Shimla, India. Deepak Sansta / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

World Peace Requires Access to Safe Water

International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.

In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.

Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

How Your Personality Type Could Influence Your Food Choices

By Melissa Kravitz

"You are what you eat" may be one of the oldest sayings ever to be repeated around the dinner table, but can you also eat what you are?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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