Emails Show FDA Chemists Have Been Quietly Finding Glyphosate in Food

Did the FDA ignore findings from its own chemists?

Roundup for sale.
Photography Mike Mozart on Flickr

First, some background: Glyphosate, which is commonly sold by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup, is the most widely-used pesticide in the United States; it is an herbicide most often used to kill weeds. The EPA is responsible for setting maximum limits for pesticides, and the FDA tests food to make sure those limits are not exceeded.

Until very recently, the government had not tested food for glyphosate residue at all, despite the product’s long history in agricultural and home use. In 2014, the Government Accountability Office issued a release stating the FDA should begin testing for the herbicide’s presence on the food we eat. Shortly thereafter, a string of studies and reviews indicated that glyphosate should probably be further studied, and in March of 2015, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.”

In 2016, the FDA began what they call a “special assignment” to test certain food for glyphosate residue. The special assignment was immediately littered with issues, and, as the Huffington Post notes, testing was delayed, was strangely opaque in its operations, and was mired by accusations of collusion between Monsanto and a top EPA official. Eventually, in 2017, the FDA tested samples of four items: soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs. (They refer to it as the “2016 special assignment” although the testing was actually done the following year.) “Preliminary results for samples collected under the 2016 special assignment showed no pesticide residue violations for glyphosate in any of the four commodities tested,” wrote Peter Cassell, a press officer for the FDA, in an emailed statement to Modern Farmer.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were quickly filed, and the newest set, this one by the non-profit food industry research group US Right to Know and published this past weekend by the Guardian, turned up some interesting emails from within the FDA showing that their chemists have been busy doing some extra-curricular work testing regular foods brought from home, as opposed to the official samples tested by the FDA, for the presence of glyphosate.

All of the official samples passed the test and were within the legal limits of glyphosate residue. But those off-the-record, unofficial samples, though done with the same equipment and tested by the same chemists, showed glyphosate.

That’s right. The chemists found glyphosate residue on just about everything: crackers, granola, cornmeal, honey, oatmeal, baby food, and even corn. Their surreptitious corn test – one of the four items the FDA is actually testing – found glyphosate significantly over the legal limit set by the EPA. The chemists emailed their bosses to ask what to do. The FDA’s response (which was also captured in the FOIA documents): That corn was not an “official sample” and will thus be ignored.

Requests for comment from the FDA resulted in an emailed statement saying that the four items tested did not show illegal levels of glyphosate, and that they will increase testing. “This year, FDA has expanded capacity for testing for glyphosate, 2,4-D and dicamba as part of the general panel of pesticides the agency samples and the related results will be included in the 2018 and future pesticide monitoring reports,” wrote Cassell. Follow-up questions quickly hit a brick wall, with Cassell quickly replying, “I’ve provided all we can provide at this time.”

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