Glyphosate in your Food

There’s been a lot of concern about the amount of Glyphosate (Roundup) we are exposed to in foods. There have been many questions raised in recent years about the health consequences of exposure: it is a suspected carcinogen, endocrine disruptor and implicated in infections caused by its antimicrobial action on gut bacteria.

Much more study is needed, as we simply don’t know what the consequences – to human, animal, soil and planetary health – will be of all these years of breathing, eating and drinking this pesticide.

As many people know, Glyphosate is used in GMO “Roundup-Ready” crops. It is also used pre-harvest on conventionally grown grain and cereal crops (allowed in Canada since 1992).

Monsanto’s selling point originally was that it was a ‘safe’ pesticide and claimed that it biodegraded harmlessly after killing weeds, and didn’t remain in the soil. Monsanto was successfully sued by French environmental groups ten years ago for these false claims, and the suit upheld on appeal.

Glyphosate has never simply disappeared after application. It has been found in breast milk, women’s blood, urine, animals’ organs, air, rain, and streams, and has crossed the placental barrier in animals. The Detox Project is doing valuable work in trying to establish how widespread the contamination is in humans by inviting people to participate in its study.

Meanwhile….

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has found glyphosate residue in just about one-third of 3,188 food samples tested (fresh produce, processed fruits and vegetables, grain products, juice and other beverages, bean-pea-lentil products, soy products and baby food). Nearly half of the pea/bean/lentil samples contained glyphosate residue; grain products and soy were also high; safety levels were exceeded in 4% of grain and 1.3% of all foods tested. One-third of the baby foods tested contained glyphosate, although none scored above the levels considered safe.

This of course doesn’t address the toxic load we all carry in this contaminated world. A safe level of one toxin may accumulate over time and possibly interact with other toxins we ingest. And we don’t know what else is in Roundup as the adjuvants (other ingredients) in patented formulae don’t have to be disclosed in the interests of protecting the profit margins of the manufacturer. And the CFIA has decided not to disclose the details of the foods they tested – brands, varieties, anything we might want to use to make better food choices – “for confidentiality reasons”.

So for me, certified organic food continues to be the best choice, wherever I can afford it.

Keeping Clean – Pesticides and Produce in 2016

organic-infographic-canada-654The 2016 Environmental Working Group‘s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is out. This is the guide known as the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen, helping consumers to understand which foods contain higher and lower levels of pesticide. It was intended to help us know which foods had the highest pesticide residues, where it would be most important to buy organic, and which had less risk because of lower residues.

You’ll hear people argue that the amount of pesticide residue found on conventionally-grown produce is tiny, and within allowable limits.

But consider these tiny, cumulative elements consumed three (or more) times a day over a lifetime, combined with other environmental toxins. According to Mt Sinai Hospital,

Over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released by industry into the nation’s environment each year, including 72 million pounds of recognized carcinogens.

Of the top 20 chemicals discharged to the environment, nearly 75% are known or suspected to be toxic to the developing human brain.

Many of these chemicals are not adequately tested before release. We have no idea how these chemicals interact with each other in our bodies. What we do know is that many, if not most pesticides have neurotoxic effects, meaning they affect our brains and neurological systems – more so the vulnerable developing brains of children – and many are known or suspected carcinogens. Reason enough to be very, very picky about what we eat.

The EWG’s report had some interesting findings. Strawberries have bumped apples off the Number 1 position of the Dirty Dozen list, so be sure to buy or grow those organically.

It will come as no surprise to readers of Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire that the average potato “had more pesticides by weight than any other produce”.

The cleanest food on the EWG’s list of 48 was the avocado. Next cleanest was sweetcorn – with one large disclaimer: corn is a major genetically-modified crop.

About 80% of maize, or field corn (the unsweet corn used in processed foods like cornstarch and high fructose corn syrup, fed to animals, and used for popcorn) is GM. Maize is usually modified with Bt, a bacterium that kills caterpillars who ingest any part of the plant. It may also be genetically modified to be Roundup resistant, meaning it will have been sprayed with glyphosate. Glyphosate is under increasing scrutiny for its damaging health effects. In 2011, Monsanto began producing GMO sweetcorn, the kind humans eat. GM sweetcorn is still a small proportion of what’s on the market, and non-GM sweetcorn is low in pesticide residues. So you need only ask the farmer or market you buy it from if it is in fact genetically-modified, and don’t buy it if it is. Asking this question lets producers know you don’t want it and keeps it out of our kitchens.

Greenwashing 101

SpinningFoodA new report on the expensive art of greenwashing (PR tactics designed to convince you that black is white, in the world of health, agriculture and foodstuffs) has been released by Friends of the Earth. It reveals many interesting ways agri-food industries seek to manipulate public opinion. The aim is to continue and expand profitable business practices that are, in a nutshell, killing us and deadening the future of a planet on which future generations – of all species – will struggle to survive.

“Rather than responding to changing market demands by shifting the way they do business, these companies are trying to preserve market share and win key policy battles by using “tobaccostyle” PR tactics.”

Mainly it’s a story of money. Great big buckets of money, poured on an overwhelmed and confused public, at the expense of the health of our soil, our ecosystem and our water supplies. Basically it’s encouraging an utter violation of our duty as custodians of this planet.

Here are the key strategies identified in the report, as used by pro-industry campaigners. Please watch for them, and teach your friends and family how to spot them. (Learning basic internet research is a key skill for untangling the source of questionable information sources. The authors of misinformation count on public apathy and gullibility in order to land their messages.)

  • Deploying front groups who appear to be independent, but are in fact made up of industry or PR professionals to promote their messages with consumers and the media
  • Targeting female audiences by trying to co-opt female bloggers, elevating female spokespeople and promoting messages to disparage “organic moms” as elitist bullies
  • Infiltrating social media and creating seemingly independent social media engagement platforms, such as GMO Answers, that are in fact run by industry PR firms
  • Attacking the credibility of scientists, advocates, consumers and journalists who raise concerns about industrial food production’s methods and impacts
  • Partnering with prominent media venues on “native advertising” disguised as real news content that promotes industry messages
  • Using third-party allies to foster an echo chamber of carefully crafted talking points to frame the story of food in favor of chemical intensive industrial food production.

I would encourage anyone involved in education at any level – including those of us trying to educate our elected officials – to read the report and circulate its findings as widely as possible.

It hardly bears repeating, but I will do so anyway, that ample evidence exists, and is building, on the disastrous effects of industrial operations on our ability to feed ourselves well and sustainably. I refer you to my Eco-Nutrition page on this website for a list of resources which do not bear the taint of agri-food PR budgets.