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Glyphosate Detected in Granola and Crackers, FDA Emails Show

Chafer Sentry applies glyphosate, the most widely applied pesticide worldwide, to stubbles in North Yorkshire. Chafer Machinery / Flickr

Scientists with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) have found traces of a ubiquitous and controversial weedkiller in granola, crackers and other everyday foods, according to internal documents obtained by The Guardian through a freedom of information request.

The FDA has tested food samples for glyphosate for "two years, but has not yet released any official results," Carey Gilliam reported in The Guardian article. Gilliam is an author, investigative journalist and research director for U.S. Right to Know.


"I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal, and corn meal from home and there's a fair amount in all of them," FDA chemist Richard Thompson emailed to colleagues in January 2017.

He noted that broccoli was the only food he tested that "does not have glyphosate in it."

In other emails, FDA chemist Narong Chamkasem found "over-the-tolerance" levels of glyphosate in corn, detected at 6.5 parts per million, which is over the legal limit of 5.0 parts per million.

Gilliam observed, "An illegal level would normally be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but an FDA supervisor wrote to an EPA official that the corn was not considered an 'official sample.'"

Chamkasem has also found glyphosate in numerous samples of honey and in oatmeal products. But the FDA temporarily suspended testing after those findings, and Chamkasem's lab was "reassigned to other programs," FDA documents show. An FDA spokesperson said those tests were not considered part of the official glyphosate residue "special assignment," which only looks for traces in corn, soy, eggs and milk.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's top-selling product, RoundUp. The chemical is the world's most widely used weedkiller and has been sprayed on agricultural fields and home gardens for decades. Other tests have found glyphosate in many common food products including "all-natural" Quaker Oats, alcoholic beverages and, consequently, human urine and breast milk.

The widespread use of glyphosate is also creating environmental problems, including herbicide-resistant weeds.

Scrutiny has surrounded the chemical ever since the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as a probable human carcinogen in 2016.

Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA routinely test thousands of food samples for residues of commonly used pesticides, the regulators have refused for decades to test for glyphosate because the government says it considers it safe.

In 2014, the Government Accountability Office criticized both agencies for the failure to test regularly for glyphosate.

As safety concerns continued to mount, the FDA began in 2016 its own limited testing program—its so-called "special assignment"—for glyphosate residues. The USDA was moving forward with its own glyphosate testing program in 2017 but quietly dropped the effort.

Monsanto has vehemently defended its product and the safety of glyphosate. The EPA and other international scientific bodies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Food Safety Authority, say that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

When asked about the emails, an FDA spokesperson told The Guardian that the FDA has not found any illegal levels in corn, soy, milk, or eggs, which it considers part of the "special assignment." The spokesperson did not address the FDA scientists' unofficial findings.

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"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."

Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.