Is Hummus Safe to Eat? What You Need to Know About Glyphosate in Food

by | Updated: October 14th, 2020 | Read time: 4 minutes

A new study raises concerns about certain brands of a popular snack food that were shown to contain high levels of a widely used weedkiller connected to cancer.

Lab tests ordered by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found potentially harmful levels of the herbicide glyphosate in more than 80 percent of samples of non-organic hummus and chickpeas. The study, released in July 2020, detected considerably lower levels of glyphosate in organic versions of hummus and chickpeas.

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One-third of the 27 samples of conventional hummus exceeded the Environmental Working Group’s benchmark of 160 parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate for daily consumption, based on a 60-gram serving (about four tablespoons). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a legal limit of 5,000 ppb for glyphosate in chickpeas.

Glyphosate, the world’s No. 1 herbicide, was sold for decades by Monsanto, now part of Bayer AG, under the brand name Roundup. The International Agency for Research on Cancer identifies glyphosate as a likely cancer-causing chemical, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment lists it as a cancer-causing chemical.

In all, 10 hummus samples surpassed the Environmental Working Group’s benchmark for glyphosate:

  • Three samples of Sabra Classic Hummus.
  • One sample of Sabra Roasted Pine Nut Hummus.
  • Two samples of Whole Foods Market Original Hummus.
  • One sample of Whole Foods Market organic-label Original Hummus.
  • One sample of Cava Traditional Hummus.
  • Two samples of Harris Teeter Fresh Foods Market Traditional Artisan Hummus.

The Environmental Working Group also tested 12 samples of organic hummus and six samples of organic chickpeas. All but two contained detectable amounts of glyphosate.

“Although glyphosate levels in organic samples were much lower than those of their conventional counterparts, one dry chickpea sample had the highest glyphosate concentration of all samples tested in the study,” the group says.

Finding glyphosate in hummus

Olga Naidenko, vice president for science investigations at the Environmental Working Group, says otherwise healthy foods like hummus and chickpeas would be better without glyphosate.

“Toxic weedkiller should never be allowed to contaminate these products, or any other foods, that millions of American families eat every day,” Naidenko says in a news release.

The group says it bought beans and bean-based products online or at major food retailers in the New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., metro areas.

The six products with the highest amounts of glyphosate were:

  1. Whole Foods Original Hummus — Up to 2,379 ppb
  2. Harris Teeter Fresh Foods Market Traditional Artisan Hummus — Up to 1,618 ppb
  3. Sabra Classic Hummus — Up to 743 ppb
  4. Whole Foods Organic Original Hummus — 419 ppb
  5. Sabra Roasted Pine Nut Hummus — 349 ppb
  6. Cava Traditional Hummus — 224 ppb

The six products with the lowest amounts of glyphosate were:

  1. The Perfect Pita Traditional Hummus — 0 ppb
  2. O Organics Traditional Hummus (Albertsons) — 0 ppb
  3. Asmar’s Hommus Original — 0 ppb
  4. Park Street Deli Hummus Classic (Aldi) — 7 ppb
  5. Simple Truth Organic Garlic Hummus (Kroger): 8 ppb
  6. Good & Gather Roasted Garlic Hummus (Target): 8 ppb

While the findings of the Environmental Working Group’s study might be alarming, Good Housekeeping Institute’s registered dietitian, Stefani Sassos, says hummus and chickpeas offer benefits and remain safe to eat.

“They’re a plant-based protein powerhouse, and there’s so many benefits to discuss here: There’s chickpeas’ ample fiber content that aids digestion and weight management, and the rich antioxidant profile found within chickpeas and hummus,” Sassos says. “The benefits outweigh negatives here, especially when you compare hummus or chickpeas to other options in the supermarket.”

She notes that a single component of your diet won’t cause or cure cancer. However, hummus and chickpeas contribute to a plant-based diet, which is tied to reduced cancer risks.

Glyphosate in food – how it happens

The Environmental Working Group explains that glyphosate came to the market in 1974. Its use broadened following Monsanto’s introduction in 1996 of genetically modified Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant crops.

“For consumers, most worrisome is use of the chemical on beans and grains as a drying agent just before harvest. This spraying can lead to high levels of glyphosate in beans, hummus, oat cereals and other foods,” the Environmental Working Group says.

Under federal law, organic farmers can’t spray Roundup or other toxic pesticides on crops. The presence of glyphosate in the organic samples tested by the Environmental Working Group might be due to pesticide drifting from conventional crops or due to contamination at processing and packaging plants.

“Regulatory authorities have strict rules when it comes to pesticide residues,” Bayer says in a statement provided to Fox Business. “In the U.S., the EPA sets daily exposure limits at least 100 times below levels shown to have no negative effect in safety studies.

“Even at the highest level reported in the hummus samples (2,379 ppb), an adult would have to eat 64 pounds of hummus every day for the rest of their life to reach the strict limits set by the EPA.”