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.


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 haveĀ 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.

American Campus Breakfast

IdahoBreakfastLast night I arrived at the University of Idaho campus for the environmental literature conference ASLE 2015. For many years I’ve marvelled at the disconnect between conference themes and the food served. Here’s today’s example: the first meal encountered at a conference that champions sustainability and environmental responsibility.

For our US$7.50 we could grab a paper plate and some plastic cutlery and help ourselves from the breakfast buffet. Our journey begins with two colours of yogurt whose shine screams “low fat” – and low fat results in a flavour/texture deficiency that requires copious sweetening to balance – and indeed my dining companion discovers the white version to be heavily sugared and inedible. Alongside lurks a container of surprisingly tasteless cottage cheese (probably made from rBGH dairy), canned fruit cocktail in a sugar syrup, and some lumps of what must be heavily sweetened packaged granola.

We next pass a transitional display of long-life muffins sealed in cellophane, followed by two kinds of sweet (white flour) pastries for the continental set. Michael Pollan’s advice (don’t eat food that won’t rot) rings in my ears as I move on.

On the hot buffet we can choose pancakes (white flour), Tater Tots, scrambled and hard boiled (battery chicken) eggs and sausages. Toast? asks my friend – and behind us we spot an unopened white bread sandwich loaf accompanied by a butter-like substance and a bowl of what could be maple-like syrup. The pancakes and bread, in addition to their general ill-effects (such as total lack of fibre and their disastrous effects on blood sugar), would probably have been made from wheat treated with Roundup as a pre-harvest desiccant, and likely dosed with fungicides as well. Tater Tots, contain white flour, are larded with trans-fats, and would have been made from conventionally-grown potatoes that are heavily dosed in fungicides and pesticides, as Michael Pollan explained to us long ago.

The cereal selection, as shown in the photo, consists entirely of sweetened carbs, with the possible exception of Cheerios (– ohhh, nope, we find modified cornstarch (gmo) and sugar in the breakfast of champions). There is no full fat milk, only skim, 2% and chocolate to put on these things, all of which can be presumed to be rBGH; plus two dairy-free alternatives (I would guess the choices are sweetened and chocolate gmo soy milk).

I bypass the juice (the usual sugary suspects), and of course an array of soda pops for those who needed that extra boost to get them going. Coffee and hot water urns with some Numi tea selections – the only organic substances in the room? – round out the fare.

There is, to be fair, some fresh fruit (slightly battered bananas, oranges, apples – Macintosh? – and red grapes) none of could be expected to be organic, no surprise there. But apples of course are number 1 on the fruits with highest pesticide residues, and grapes rank #5. But non-organic banana production is pesticide-intensive, and conventionally grown oranges are treated with fungicides and pesticides and should be on that list as well.

Once you have your breakfast, you can, if you wish, take your plate and park yourself in front of a large screen TV and enjoy a generous volume of ESPN while you enjoy your meal, although this morning the prime viewing seat was already occupied by a student slumped over his ipad.

Admittedly, this would probably not be an unfamiliar morning ritual for Canadian university students, and indeed pretty much anyone mired in an institution in North America. It is astonishing how slow things are to change when we as a species know better.

This kind of array – I hesitate to call it food – explains much about the health problems that will follow these students through their adult life. We have known for decades the health effects of lack of fibre, presence of pesticides and other contaminants, and extremely high quantities of sugar. I am truly grateful that my university residence days are lost in the mists of a slightly healthier time.

Thanks to our provisioning stop at the Skagit Valley Co-op on our way here, we are buffered from future breakfast visits, but dreading the other two meals. Cooking ourselves is an option, though our dorm’s “full kitchen” comprises a fridge, freezer and microwave, with no implements or dishes of any kind. Sad as I was to see paper and plastic used at breakfast – in the fantasyland of my imagination these may have been compostable – I was grateful we could snag some of these for our personal use. Survival and foraging instincts on high alert.