Did you hear glyphosate was found in cereal? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit focused on consumer health and the environment, reported that 43 out of 45 cereals they tested contained trace amounts of glyphosate. Even five of the 16 organic cereals they examined were positive for glyphosate. But what does this mean? Is glyphosate a health hazard?
What is glyphosate?
Other than a hard-to-pronounce word (gly-fos-ate), glyphosate serves a couple different functions. It was originally used to decalcify pipes. However, in 1974, glyphosate was introduced to the masses as a weed-control solution. It’s referred to as an herbicide, meaning its primary job is to kill plants, specifically weeds. It works by inhibiting a specific enzyme needed for plants to grow.
Initially, glyphosate seemed like a miracle solution. It targeted pesky weeds, so farmers and home gardeners could peacefully grow fruits and vegetables without any serious side effects. In fact, it was deemed safe for human and animal exposure. As its effectiveness went viral, glyphosate use increased dramatically in the United States and around the world.
A 2016 article in Environmental Sciences Europe says, “Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called ‘Roundup Ready,’ genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996.” In fact, this is where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) got their big start. Now, these GMO crops account for about 56 percent of global glyphosate use, according to the article. “In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use.”
How does glyphosate affect health?
The last 20 years have revealed a lot about glyphosate. For starters, it’s a broad-spectrum herbicide, meaning they can control both broadleaf and grass weeds. Thus, its application has naturally led to the rise of weeds that are resistant to glyphosate. Nature is smart like that. “To combat weeds less sensitive to glyphosate, farmers typically increase glyphosate application rates and spray more often,” reports the 2016 article. This becomes a vicious cycle, especially if glyphosate is consumed by humans.
When ingested, broad-spectrum herbicides act as broad-spectrum antibiotics in the human gastrointestinal tract. As you may know from taking antibiotics, they tend to kill the good bacteria in the gut, which can lead to other health problems. A 2013 study proposed that “Celiac disease is associated with imbalances in gut bacteria that can be fully explained by the known effects of glyphosate on gut bacteria.”
Not only does glyphosate affect the microbes in the human gut, it also kills microbial life in the soil. Glyphosate also acts as a mineral chelator, that immobilizes nutrients in the soil and prevents plants from absorbing them.
Now widely recognized as a weed killer, glyphosate is being used for a purpose that it was not originally intended for – as a desiccant. A desiccant is a drying agent. In this case glyphosate is used to kill the plant and dry it out in order to speed up and control the harvest. However, the effects of this process have taken a toll on human health over the decades. That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans.”
How can I avoid glyphosate?
Look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label. This is not a guarantee that glyphosate was not used. However, Non-GMO Project Verified products are less likely to contain glyphosate, because they do not contain genetically modified organisms.
Buy foods with the USDA Organic seal. The United States Department of Agriculture says, “Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.” Because of the phenomenon of drift – where chemicals from conventional fields drift onto organic farms – there is a possibility of glyphosate on organic foods. That said, it’s a much lower probability than with conventionally raised crops.
Choose products with the Glyphosate Residue Free label. The best way to avoid glyphosate in food (and supplements) is to choose products with the Glyphosate Residue Free label certified by the Detox Project. The Detox Project works with third-party laboratories to test products and ensure they do not contain glyphosate or the glyphosate metabolite AMPA.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Article contributed by Erin Stokes, N.D., Medical Director at INNATE Response. Dr. Stokes received her naturopathic doctor degree from Bastyr University in 2001. Shortly afterwards she began to pursue her passion for educating others by teaching Western Pathology and Psychology of Healing at Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colo. She combines her experience as a naturopathic doctor with an extensive background in the natural retail industry, most recently providing naturopathic consultations at an integrative pharmacy for over six years. Her personal mission is to empower people with the inspiration and tools to change their lives, and she is a frequent radio show and podcast guest. Dr. Stokes is a registered Naturopathic Doctor in Colorado, and lives with her family in Boulder, Colo.