As a follow up to my interview with Chuck Benbrook, I was astounded to see the verdict come through on the case of Alva and Alberta Pilliod. The jury awarded them an astonishing $2 billion in damages for their exposure to the herbicide glyphosate and their subsequent fight with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Chuck testified in the case on April 17th, and he focused on Monsanto’s “stewardship” and lack thereof for its Roundup-brand herbicides.
Chuck comment that “This verdict will surely get Bayer’s attention. Talk about chickens coming home to roost.” His May 13thblog post, Has Bayer’s Day of Roundup Reckoning Arrived?, elaborates more on the verdict.
What does all this have to do with organic products? Herbicides like glyphosate are explicitly forbidden in organic production.
Glyphosate residues are being detected in organic products.
Glyphosate is the most frequently used weed killer in the world, and its use has skyrocketed in the past 20 years. With more than 250 million pounds sprayed annually in the U.S. according to the U.S. Geological Survey, its presence is almost ubiquitous in our food supply.
Conventional crops like oats, peas, and wheat are routinely sprayed with glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant or drying mechanism. Basically, it burns the plants, drying the grains which makes them faster and easier to harvest.
But it also leaves a very heavy residue of the herbicide on the raw product ready to be cheerfully made into our morning oatmeal or cereal.
This then is the real culprit of glyphosate contamination in our food supply; unfortunately, organic included.
How does glyphosate get into organic food?
Glyphosate may contaminate organic crops by drifting from nearby farm fields, or cross-contamination in a processing facility that also handles non-organic foods.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently tested for glyphosate residues in oat and wheat-based products. It found residues in more than 95 percent of popular conventional oat-based food samples.
EWG found that one-third of the organic oat-based products tested positive for glyphosate residues.
Glyphosate was also detected in all of the wheat-based foods they tested. Pasta samples contained glyphosate at levels ranging from 60 to 150 parts per billion.
Will EPA do anything about herbicide contamination?
Last fall EWG and several organic companies petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding glyphosate.
EWG is requesting that the EPA reduce the glyphosate tolerance for oats from 30 ppm to 0.1 ppm to account for the carcinogenic risk of the pesticide and high dietary exposure for children.
The petition also requests that the agency require glyphosate-containing product labels to explicitly prohibit the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant on oats.
The deadline to make your comment known on this petition is June 5th.
Is voluntary certification the answer?
As consumers grow wary of herbicides, a surge of companies – organic included – are voluntarily being certified “Glyphosate Residue Free” by the Detox Project.
The company states that “Organic, Non-GMO Project and Glyphosate Residue Free are complementary certifications. However, it is important to understand the following: …USDA Organic certification does not ensure glyphosate residue free food due to poor supply chain testing standards. USDA Organic certification is also not based on testing of the final food product for toxic chemicals…The Non-GMO Project certification – tests for GMOs in the supply chain but does not test for toxic chemicals.”
Their certification is so popular that the Hartman Group says, “Glyphosate-free” is now one of the four top “premium” descriptions for which food companies can charge higher prices.”
Should organic products regularly be tested for glyphosate residues?
The California Products Advisory Board (COPAC) has considered asking the California State Organic Program (SOP) to begin testing for glyphosate in CA organic products.
On April 4th, the COPAC Glyphosate Subcommittee met and expressed a “consensus of concern around glyphosate residues in organics.” But there was no consensus among the members regarding the most appropriate path for testing.
Phil LaRocca serves on COPAC, and he recently spoke up on the issue. “We shouldn’t stick our head in the ground about glyphosate, but we need to be very careful, so we don’t hurt any innocent organic farmers. It’s the same as when we began doing GMO testing – we raised awareness, and now we aren’t seeing the contamination we used to get because people are planting at different times to avoid the issue.”
If organic producers are abiding by the organic regulations and not using toxic herbicides like glyphosate, should there be mandatory testing for residues?
What happens to an organic farmer if her oats test positive despite her vigilance in following the rules? Who suffers economically? What are the ramifications?
As these questions unfold in the organic community, one thing is clear. Consumers are becoming more and more aware that conventional chemical farming is dangerous, and they want a better way to verify these chemicals aren’t in their food.
But the reality is Bayer’s glyphosate is almost everywhere.