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By Katherine Wei
We all love to eat. And increasingly, our cultural conversation centers around food—the cultivation of refined taste buds, the methods of concocting the most delectable blends of flavors, the ways in which it can influence our health and longevity, and the countless TV shows and books that are borne of people's foodie fascinations. However, there's one aspect we as consumers pay perhaps too little heed: the production of food before it reaches markets and grocery store shelves. We don't directly experience this aspect of food, and as a result, it's shrouded in mystery, and often, confusion.
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By Jessica Corbett
Raising further concerns about the global food production system, a new study found that bees worldwide are being widely exposed to dangerous agricultural chemicals, with 75 percent of honey samples from six continents testing positive for pesticides known to harm pollinators.
"What this shows is the magnitude of the contamination," the study's lead author, Edward Mitchell, a biology professor at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, told the Denver Post. He said there were "relatively few places where we did not find any" contaminated samples.
By Corey Binns
Dressed in a white beekeeping suit, Zack Strong tried to ignore the honeybees buzzing around his hood as he pounded fence posts into late summer's rock-hard ground about 20 miles southwest of Columbus, Montana. The native Montanan and advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Land and Wildlife program had made the trip from his home in Bozeman to these endless, rolling plains stretching north and east of the towering Beartooth Mountains to resolve a conflict between a storied pair of rivals, bees and bears. Black bears had recently bothered bee yards in this area, jeopardizing business for local apiarists in the nation's second-largest honey-producing state.
As anyone familiar with Winnie the Pooh will know—and as Dr. Alex Few, a biologist with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, will attest to—conflicts between honeybees and bears are not new. Both black and grizzly bears love honey and will also eat bees and their larvae. But now that bear populations are expanding, conflicts are cropping up in new areas, Few noted.
By Carey Gillam
Residues of the main ingredient in Monsanto's flagship herbicide Roundup has been found in honey in the key farm state of Iowa.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began glyphosate residue testing in a small number of foods earlier this year after the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in March 2015. The "special assignment," as the FDA refers to the testing project, is the first time the FDA has ever looked for glyphosate residues in food, though it annually tests foods for numerous other pesticides.
Research by FDA chemist Narong Chamkasem and John Vargo, a chemist at the University of Iowa, shows that residues of glyphosate have been detected at 653 parts per billion (ppb), more than 10 times the limit of 50 ppb allowed in the European Union. Other samples tested detected glyphosate residues in honey samples at levels from the low 20s ppb to more than 123 parts per billion ppb. Some samples had none or only trace amounts below levels of quantification. Previous reports had disclosed glyphosate residues in honey detected as high as 107 ppb. The collaborative work was part of an effort within the FDA to establish and validate testing methodology for glyphosate residues.
"According to recent reports, there has been a dramatic increase in the usage of these herbicides, which are of risk to both human health and the environment," Chamkasem and Vargo stated in their laboratory bulletin.
Because there is no legal tolerance level for glyphosate in honey in the U.S., any amount could technically be considered a violation, according to statements made in FDA internal emails, obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may soon move to set a tolerance, however. The agency has set tolerance levels for glyphosate residues in many foods the EPA expects might contain residues of the weed killer. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producer.
"EPA is evaluating the necessity of establishing tolerances for inadvertent residues of pesticides in honey," the agency said in a statement. "EPA has examined the glyphosate residue levels found in honey and has determined that glyphosate residues at those levels do not raise a concern for consumers."
Despite these reassurances by the EPA, at least two lawsuits have been filed over this issue. The Organic Consumers Association and Beyond Pesticides filed suit Tuesday against the Sioux Honey Association Cooperative, a large Iowa-based group of bee keepers who produce the nationally known brand Sue Bee Honey.
Sue Bee bills itself as "America's Honey," but the lawsuit alleges that the labeling and advertising of Sue Bee Products as "Pure," "100% Pure," "Natural" and "All-natural" is "false, misleading and deceptive." Some of the glyphosate residues detected in the FDA tests were found in the Sue Bee brand, according to the FDA documents obtained through FOIA requests.
The claims are similar to another lawsuit, which seeks class action status, that was filed against Sioux Honey Association in late September in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Quaker Oats was sued earlier this year on a similar claim regarding glyphosate residues. The FDA has also found glyphosate residues in oatmeal, including several types of infant oat cereal.
Considering corn is the key crop grown in Iowa and most of the U.S. corn crop is genetically modified to tolerate being sprayed directly with glyphosate, it is not surprising that glyphosate residues are showing up in honey in Iowa and other farm states.
"It's a chemical intrusion, a chemical trespass into our product," said Darren Cox, president of the American Honey Producers Association. "We have really no way of controlling it. I don't see an area for us to put our bees. We can't put them in the middle of the desert. They need to be able to forage in ag areas. There are no ag areas free of this product."
Sioux Honey Association President David Allibone said no one from the FDA has communicated with his group about the chemical residues found in honey and he said he could not discuss the issue further because of the litigation.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday acknowledges the difficulties beekeepers face. They "are often the victims of and have little recourse against, contamination of their hives caused by pesticide applications in the fields where bees forage," the lawsuit states.
The glyphosate residues showing up in food are surprising and worrisome, according to dietitian Mitzi Dulan, a nationally known nutrition and wellness expert.
"I think more testing should be done so that we are armed with the knowledge and then we can decide what we want to put into our bodies," Dulan said. "I do believe in minimizing pesticide exposures whenever possible."
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed yesterday, said regulators need to do more to address the issue.
"Until U.S. regulatory agencies prohibit Monsanto and other manufacturers of glyphosate from selling pesticides that end up in the food supply, we need to protect consumers by demanding truth and transparency in labeling," Feldman said.
By Carey Gillam
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is quietly starting to test U.S. foods for traces of glyphosate, has found residues of the cancer-linked pesticide in a variety of oat products, including plain and flavored oat cereals for babies.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found residues of the weed killer glyphosate in samples of U.S. honey, according to documents obtained by the consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know through a Freedom of Information Act request. Some samples showed residue levels double the legally allowed limit in the European Union.
There is no legal tolerance level for glyphosate in honey in the U.S., so any amount of detectable glyphosate in honey could technically be considered illegal. Some of the honey tested by the FDA had glyphosate residues at 107 parts per billion, well more than the 50 parts per billion set as a maximum allowed in the European Union, the documents state.
Records obtained from the FDA, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, by U.S. Right to Know detail a range of revelations about the federal government's efforts to get a handle on rising concerns about glyphosate. In addition to honey, the records show government residue experts discussing the prevalence of glyphosate found in soybean samples and the belief that there could be a lot of "violation for glyphosate" residue levels in U.S. crops.
Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used herbicide in the world and concerns about glyphosate residues in food increased after the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Other international scientists have raised concerns about how heavy use of glyphosate is impacting human health and the environment.
Even though the FDA annually examines foods for residues of many pesticides, it has declined to test for glyphosate residues for decades. It was only in February of this year that the agency said it would start some limited testing for glyphosate residues. That came after many independent researchers started conducting their own testing on various foods two years ago, finding glyphosate in an array of products, including flour, cereal and oatmeal.