Quantcast
GMO

Why Is Glyphosate Sprayed on Crops Right Before Harvest?

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, is recognized as the world's most widely used weed killer. What is not so well known is that farmers also use glyphosate on crops such as wheat, oats, edible beans and other crops right before harvest, raising concerns that the herbicide could get into food products.


Escalating Use of Probable Carcinogen

Glyphosate has come under increased scrutiny in the past year. Last year the World Health Organization's cancer group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified it as a probable carcinogen. The state of California has also moved to classify the herbicide as a probable carcinogen. A growing body of research is documenting health concerns of glyphosate as an endocrine disruptor and that it kills beneficial gut bacteria, damages the DNA in human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells and is linked to birth defects and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

What is not so well known is that farmers also use glyphosate on crops such as wheat, oats, edible beans and other crops right before harvest.

A recently published paper describes the escalating use of glyphosate: 18.9 billion pounds have been used globally since its introduction in 1974, making it the most widely and heavily applied weed-killer in the history of chemical agriculture. Significantly, 74 percent of all glyphosate sprayed on crops since the mid-1970s was applied in just the last 10 years, as cultivation of GMO corn and soybeans expanded in the U.S. and globally.

Glyphosate Used to Speed Up Wheat Harvest

Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., who published the paper on the mounting use of glyphosate, says the practice of spraying glyphosate on wheat prior to harvest, known as desiccating, began in Scotland in the 1980s.

“Farmers there often had trouble getting wheat and barley to dry evenly so they can start harvesting. So they came up with the idea to kill the crop (with glyphosate) one to two weeks before harvest to accelerate the drying down of the grain," he said.

The pre-harvest use of glyphosate allows farmers to harvest crops as much as two weeks earlier than they normally would, an advantage in northern, colder regions.

The practice spread to wheat-growing areas of North America such as the upper Midwestern U.S. and Canadian provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“Desiccation is done primarily in years where conditions are wet and the crop is slow to dry down," Joel Ransom, an agronomist at North Dakota State University, said.

Ransom says desiccating wheat with glyphosate has been a useful tool for farmers.

“It does help hasten dry down and controls grain weeds and other material that slows down the threshing practice," he said. “It has an important role in areas where it's wet."

Ransom says the practice has increased in North Dakota, which is the leading wheat-producing state in the U.S., over the past 15 years due to wetter weather.

While more common in Upper Midwestern states where there is more moisture, desiccation is less likely to be done in drier wheat growing areas of Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington and Oregon.

All Conventional Farmers in Saskatchewan Desiccate Wheat

According to a wheat farmer in Saskatchewan, desiccating wheat with glyphosate is commonplace in his region. “I think every non-organic farmer in Saskatchewan uses glyphosate on most of their wheat acres every year," the farmer speaking on condition of anonymity said.

He has concerns about the practice. “I think farmers need to realize that all of the chemicals we use are 'bad' to some extent," he said. “Monsanto has done such an effective job marketing glyphosate as 'safe' and 'biodegradable' that farmers here still believe this even though such claims are false."

The vast majority of farmers in Manitoba, Canada's third largest wheat producing province, also use glyphosate on wheat, said Gerald Wiebe, a farmer and agricultural consultant. “I would estimate that 90 to 95 percent of wheat acres in Manitoba are sprayed pre-harvest with glyphosate; the exception would be in dry areas of the province where moisture levels at harvest time are not an issue," he said.

“Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy

According to Tom Ehrhardt, co-owner of Minnesota-based Albert Lea Seeds, sourcing grains not desiccated with glyphosate prior to harvest is a challenge.

“I have talked with millers of conventionally produced grain and they all agree it's very difficult to source oats, wheat, flax and triticale, which have not been sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest," he said. “It's a 'don't ask, don't tell policy' in the industry."

Ehrhardt also says that crops grown to produce seed are not usually sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest because this can damage seed germination.

Grain Millers, which has grain processing facilities in the U.S. and Canada, announced last year that it would not buy oats from Canada that had been desiccated with glyphosate. The company's Canadian procurement manager, Terry Tyson, told Western Producer that glyphosate disrupts the natural maturing process and starch development, resulting in lower quality flakes and flour. He said the decision had nothing to do with health or safety concerns.

“Would Rather Not Eat a Loaf of Bread With Glyphosate In It"

Still, there are obvious concerns about glyphosate getting into food products.

“We are told these (glyphosate residues) are too small to matter but can we believe that?" the Saskatchewan farmer asked. “I think everyone, even farmers that use and love glyphosate, would rather not eat a loaf of bread with glyphosate in it."

Wiebe shares similar concerns. “Consumers don't realize when they buy wheat products like flour, cookies and bread they are getting glyphosate residues in those products," he said. “It's barbaric to put glyphosate in food a few days before you harvest it."

Wiebe believes the use of glyphosate on wheat may be connected to the rise in celiac disease. “We've seen an explosion of gluten intolerance," he said. “What's really going on?"

“Can you imagine the public's response if they knew that glyphosate is being sprayed on the oats in their Cheerios only weeks before it is manufactured?" Ehrhardt asked.

Residues of glyphosate have been found in wheat flour. Last year, Ransom reported to the U.S. Wheat Quality Council that tests on flour samples from the U.S. and Canada found that all had traces of glyphosate. However, Ransom said these were well below the maximum residue limits for glyphosate in wheat, which are 30 parts per million in the U.S.

Still, Ransom said: “I wouldn't be surprised if someone repeated the test and found traces also."

In response to mounting concerns over the escalating use of glyphosate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently said it would begin testing foods for glyphosate residues.

Powerful Effect on Food System

Along with wheat and oats, glyphosate is used to desiccate a wide range of other crops including lentils, peas, non-GMO soybeans, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets and potatoes. Sunflowers may also be treated pre-harvest with glyphosate, according to the National Sunflower Association.

Benbrook says that a large portion of edible beans grown in Washington and Idaho are desiccated with glyphosate.

There are no statistics kept on the number of acres of wheat or other crops that are desiccated with glyphosate, according to Ransom.

While the pre-harvest use of glyphosate may account for a small amount of overall use of the herbicide, Benbrook says this still has a huge impact. “It may be two percent of agriculture use, but well over 50 percent of dietary exposure," he said.

Further, he said: “I don't understand why Monsanto and the food industry don't voluntarily end this practice. They know it contributes to high dietary exposure (of glyphosate)."

Wiebe sees the situation in dire terms. “The most tragic thing is that industry is encouraging the use of glyphosate on wheat, farmers are using it, consumers are unaware of it and it's having a powerful effect on the food system," he said.

References

1. Romano RM, Romano MA, Bernardi MM, Furtado PV, Oliveira CA. “Prepubertal exposure to commercial formulation of the herbicide Glyphosate alters testosterone levels and testicular morphology." Arch Toxicol. 2010;84:309-317.

2. Awad A. Shehata, Wieland Schrodl, Alaa. A. Aldin, Hafez M. Hafez, Monika Kruger. “The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota In Vitro" Curr Microbiol. Dec 9, 2012.

3. Mañas F., Peralta L., Raviolo J., et al. “Genotoxicity of glyphosate assessed by the Comet assay and cytogenic tests." Env Toxicol Pharmacol. 2009; 28:37–41.

4. Antoniou M., Habib MEM, Howard CV, et al. “Teratogenic effects of glyphosate-based herbicides: Divergence of regulatory decisions from scientific evidence." J Env Anal Toxicol. 2012;S4:006. doi:10.4172/2161-0525.S4-006.

5. Benbrook, C. “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally." Environmental Sciences Europe (2016, 28:28) DOI: 10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0.

6. Arnason, Robert. “Oat buyer says no glyphosate pre-harvest." Western Producer. April 22, 2015.

7. Gillam, Carey. “Fears Over Roundup Herbicide Prompts Testing Of Cereals, Breastmilk, and More." Reuters News Service. April 10, 2015.

8. Gillam, Carey. “FDA to Start Testing for Glyphosate in Food." Civil Eats. February 17, 2016.

9. “Preharvest Staging Guide."

10. eu. “Clarification of Preharvest use of Glyphosate."

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Power plants like this one need to be retired at the end of their natural life to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Peter Cade / The Image Bank / Getty Images

'Last Chance': Warming Could Be Limited to 1.5°C With Immediate Phaseout of Fossil Fuel Infrastructure, Researchers Say

It is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications found, as long as we act immediately to phase out fossil fuels.

The study used a climate model to determine what would happen if, beginning at the end of 2018, all existing fossil fuel infrastructure—from industrial equipment to cars to planes to ships to power plants—was replaced with renewable alternatives at the end of its design lifetime. The researchers found there would be a 64 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with the most ambitious goal of the Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Glyphosate applied to a North Yorkshire field. Chafer Machinery / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

EU Approval of Glyphosate Based on Review That Plagiarized Monsanto Studies

The European Union's license extension of the world's most popular weedkiller, glyphosate, was based on a review that heavily plagiarized industry studies, according to a report (pdf) commissioned by European parliamentarians (MEPs).

The new analysis released Tuesday compares whether a risk assessment of the controversial herbicide was actually authored by scientists representing Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) or by the European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), an industry group that includes Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate-based Roundup, in its ranks.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Rising temperatures and more frequent wildfires in Alaskan national parks could affect caribou's habitat and winter food sources. Zak Richter / NPS

To Preserve National Parks in a Warming World, Reconnect Fragmented Public Lands

By Stephen Nash

The Trump administration's decision to keep many U.S. national parks open during the current federal government shutdown, with few or no staff, spotlights how popular and how vulnerable these unique places are.

Some states, such as Utah and Arizona, have spent heavily to keep parks open rather than lose tourist revenues. Unfortunately, without rangers to enforce rules, some visitors have strewn garbage and vandalized scenic areas.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Emma Bray of Denver, a plaintiff on the youth-led climate lawsuit, Martinez v. COGCC. @youthvgov / Twitter

Colorado's Top Court Sides Against Youth in Major Anti-Fracking Case

Colorado's oil and gas industry breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after the state's highest court overturned a lower court decision that said state regulators must consider public health and the environment in permitting oil and gas production.

The unanimous ruling was a disappointment for the teenage plaintiffs, including high-profile climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who led the closely watched lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
The possible site of Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical's ethane cracker plant along the Ohio River, as seen from Moundsville, West Virginia. Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Taking on Climate Change and Petrochemicals in the Ohio River Valley

When it comes to the fossil fuel industry, we've all heard the promises before: new jobs, economic growth and happier communities, all thanks to their generosity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion

A Call for the Food Movement to Rally Behind the Green New Deal

By Ronnie Cummins

"The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan … Half measures will not work … The time for slow and incremental efforts has long past [sic]." - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then-candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Huffington Post, June 26, 2018

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
The Great Australian Bight is home to one of only two southern right whale calving grounds in the world. Bob Adams / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Seismic Blasting Approved in the Great Australian Bight, Posing 'Lethal Threat' to Marine Life

Australia's petroleum regulator granted permission for seismic blasting in the Great Australian Bight, sparking fierce outcry from environmentalists over its threat to the area's marine life, whihc include endangered blue and southern right whales.

On Monday, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) gave the green light to oil and gas exploration services company PGS Australia's application for seismic surveys off the coast of South Australia's Kangaroo Island and Eyre Peninsula between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Frank Giustra

This Everest Greenhouse Is One of the Highest Gardens in the World

By Frank Giustra

Food has never been the main attraction—or even a side attraction—of my trekking adventures. Instead, it has primarily been an inconvenient necessity, largely consisting of rice, beans and other forms of sustenance. Without fresh vegetables, herbs and garlic, it all starts to taste the same after a day or two.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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