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A new attack on glyphosate

Earlier this fall, some food companies were calling for a ban on glyphosate

Already by October 1, 2018, over 200 products sold under 17 different brand names were displaying the Glyphosate Residue Free symbol on their packaging. And another 50 brands representing hundreds more products are in the process of securing Glyphosate Residue Free certification.

The Glyphosate Residue Free label.

Farmers can expect increasing backlash over their use of glyphosate because of this labelling. I’m afraid the Glyphosate Residue Free label will be more harmful to primary producers than even the non-GMO butterfly label on foodstuffs.

Glyphosate Residue Free certification is a program developed by the Detox Project. The actual certification platform is administered by a private company led by Henry Rowlands. The purpose of the certification is to help consumers identify foodstuffs which have no measureable glyphosate residues. Rowlands argues it is impossible to legally claim products have zero glyphosate because there are limits to testing.

Rowlands says his certification complements rather than replicates non-GMO and organic labelling. “GMO labelling has nothing to do with pesticides. Wheat and oats are non-GMO crops yet can have large high levels of glyphosate. Non-GMO labelling does nothing to protect consumers against pesticide residues.”

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Rowlands is even more critical of organic labelling. He applauds Europe for regularly testing organic foodstuffs for pesticide residues. However, he says in the U.S. “there is a massive lack of testing.” He notes glyphosate residues are found in organic-labelled foods and he attributes this primarily to spray drift from conventional production as well as “swapping out” organic produced crops with conventional commodities throughout the food chain due to a shortage of organic crops.

Rowlands says this happens because there are few checks within the system. USDA organic certification does not require testing of the end products for pesticide residues.

The Detox Project website reveals “a third of organic oat-based products recently tested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) had trace levels of glyphosate.” Even so, Rowlands feels organic-labelled products are a better consumer choice than regular foodstuffs when it comes to minimizing consumption of pesticide residues.

According to Rowlands, glyphosate residues are increasing. He attributes this primarily to the widespread use of glyphosate as a desiccant, a use for which he says it has never been registered anywhere. “Off-label usage of glyphosate has really gone up in the last 10 to 20 years,” Rowlands said. “Desiccation with glyphosate is probably the cause of 98 per cent of residue issues.”

Consumer backlash

While you might expect regulators to be responding to glyphosate residues in foodstuffs, Rowlands says this is not the case. He points out “residue limits have actually gone up relatively since 1999.” He noted the glyphosate tolerance for oats in the 1990s was 0.1 ppm. The EPA first raised the tolerances to 20 ppm and then in 2008 to the current 30 ppm as more and more farmers around the world began using glyphosate as a desiccant.

Rather than regulators, it has been consumers driving the demand for reducing pesticide residues. “Food brands are getting in trouble with consumers because of glyphosate residues in their products,” explains Rowlands.

As a result, he says food companies are calling on his company for Glyphosate Residue Free certification in order to verify their products do not have glyphosate residues. Verification labelling then provides a mechanism companies use to market these products to consumers as free of glyphosate residues.

The Glyphosate Residue Free label is entirely voluntary. If a company wants certification, they apply to Rowlands. He provides the guidelines which must be followed for certification. He directs the company to submit product samples to an accredited third-party lab. The lab tests the samples and provides the results back to the company. If the company’s products have passed the residue testing, they can submit the results back to Rowlands and receive the certification.

The company must submit samples for testing three times annually. As well, there is a program of spot testing of the products during the year.

Cost of certification is US$1,472 per brand as well as a US$200 test fee for each product test.

When asked about the long-term goal of his certification program, Rowlands quickly responds: “Ending the use of glyphosate as a desiccant.”

He added, “and a reduction in the use of pesticides.”

Rowland urges farmers to use glyphosate correctly and beware of the push by suppliers for farmers to apply glyphosate off-label to gain short-term benefits.

The Glyphosate Residue Free label is not the only pesticide residue warning that is appearing on foodstuffs. Scott Prentice is the executive director at BioChecked, a company headquartered in Sarasota, Florida. This company offers a number of verification and certification programs including BioChecked Non Glyphosate Certified.

Prentice explains the BioChecked Non Glyphosate Certified label is granted only if annual testing and random spot tests by a third-party lab meet their zero tolerance for glyphosate residue (i.e. less than 0.01 ppm).

To earn the BioChecked Non Glyphosate Certified label, a food producer/processor applies to BioChecked, and then submits product samples to an independent, ISO 17025-accredited laboratory for testing. Results are sent back to the client and if no glyphosate residues are found, the client provides the results to BioChecked for label approval.

Prentice notes the entire process is confidential. “The producer sees the results before we do. There are no lists. We will only issue a press release announcing a product has met non-glyphosate certified if the producer wants to.”

Cost for this certification is approximately US$1,200 for application and US$250 for each product test. To maintain certification, there is an annual fee of half the application cost plus the required annual testing costs.

Prentice notes that since the non-glyphosate labelling began in January, 2015, about 100 products already carry the BioChecked Non Glyphosate Certified label and more companies are seeking certification including one company which has 56 product lines.

Prentice says his company’s goal is: “To clean up the food supply. We want clean food. We want to get away from corporate farming’s reliance on chemicals. While chemicals have made farming easier, it is destroying the environment.

“We believe Non Glyphosate is the strongest label for consumers. It is much more important than ‘natural.’ I won’t even go there.”

It’s a program with a goal, he says. “If we (BioChecked) were to run out of business, I would be the happiest person on the planet,” because it would mean he had achieved clean food.

Glyphosate is the target

In 2016 I warned Country Guide readers that glyphosate was the real target of the anti-GMO movement based on the International Agency for Research on Cancer listing of Roundup as probably carcinogenic, and because of the co-ordinated attacks by activist organizations like Avaaz.

Then in 2017 I warned readers about law firms suing Monsanto for failing to warn users about the potential risk of cancer. The first such trial ended in July 2018 with a US$289 million judgement for plaintiff Dewayne Johnson against Monsanto.

Unfortunately, this is just the first of many similar lawsuits. As of September 13, 2018, there are already 11 lawsuits scheduled be heard within the next two years representing 781 plaintiffs claiming their cancer was caused by glyphosate.

In sum, the attack on glyphosate is broad-based, targeting manufacturers, regulators and consumers.

Now in 2018, the real pressure may be over glyphosate residues in food. We know the impact GMO labelling has had on agriculture. A Glyphosate Residue Free label may be even more powerful, given consumer fear of pesticides and residues.

Furthermore, companies willing to invest in marketing their products as Glyphosate Residue Free will most certainly pressure the grain industry to provide food processors with grains and commodities which have not had a pre-harvest application of glyphosate.

On August 15, 2018, Grain Millers Inc., which buys and processes Canadian grown oats at facilities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Minnesota, referenced the findings of the EWG in a press release which reaffirmed Grain Millers 2015 decision not to buy any oats which were pre-harvested with glyphosate.

The press release states: “This communication is to serve as official notification that as of harvest 2015, Grain Millers, Inc. will no longer accept any oats and/or oat products which have been treated with glyphosate. This change is driven by functional performance attributes of finished products manufactured from oats known to have been treated with glyphosate and by customer demand… We require our farmers to sign an affidavit that glyphosate has not been applied to grain they deliver to us.”

Keep It Clean, an initiative of major Canadian grain industry organizations, warns producers that malt barley will not be accepted by grain buyers if treated pre-harvest with glyphosate.

Canada Malting’s list of quality factors for selection of malt barley includes: “Free of chemical residues.”

Ben & Jerry’s have already pledged that by 2020 they will stop sourcing ingredients that have had an application of glyphosate pre-harvest and they are advocating an end of glyphosate for desiccation.

Some companies are now facing lawsuits by consumers for not revealing glyphosate residues in their products. Shortly after the Johnson trial ended, a class action lawsuit was initiated against General Mills for failing to reveal glyphosate residues in Cheerios. Bigalow teas and Quaker Oats have also been named in lawsuits pertaining to glyphosate residues.

Legal actions against food processors and retailers will certainly increase pressure on farmers to reduce their use of glyphosate —especially pre-harvest.

Farmers can only hope that this third strike against glyphosate is limited to pre-harvest applications. We cannot afford to lose this herbicide for pre-seed burn-off or for use in RR crops. Where would our no-till gains be without glyphosate?


Food companies call for glyphosate ban

On September 27, 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), along with eight major food companies, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the tolerance for glyphosate residues in oats from 30 ppm to 0.1 ppm.

The petition calls for a glyphosate label change explicitly prohibiting of the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant.

The petition rises out of the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, which has caused increasing concern about glyphosate residues in food, the environment and the human body.

This petition claims: “Between 2014 and 2016, at least 70 per cent of American adults surveyed had detectable traces of glyphosate in their bodies, compared to 12 per cent of American adults between 1993 and 1996.”

According to the petition, “In 2018, EWG tested oatmeal or oat-based cereal, granola and snack bar products, and detected glyphosate in all but two of 45 samples of products. In addition, the levels detected were at higher concentrations than glyphosate levels found in other studies for common foods such as wheat and corn.” (However, the EWG noted that all samples were under EPA tolerances.)

The eight food signatories include: Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., Happy Family Organics, MegaFood, MOM’s Organic Market, National Co+op Grocers, Nature’s Path Foods Inc., One Degree Organic Foods USA, Inc., and Stonyfield Farm, Inc.

Home testing

In mid-September of this year, the Detox Project introduced an at-home test to allow consumers to check some foods, beer, and even water to determine if their food, drinking water, or water in the environment contained glyphosate residues. The test was developed by the Pennsylvanian lab Abraxis Inc. and is a strip test which indicates the presence of even trace amounts of glyphosate residue in water, beer, honey, cereals, infant cereals, and some whole grains. (Consumers can contact the lab directly to request tests for other foods.)

The test works with a test strip that can be compared to an included chart to assess colour change and give an estimation of the concentration of glyphosate residue.

While the Detox project provides a link for ordering the test online, the test is supplied directly from Abraxis and payment is made to the lab. The single-use test costs US$79.99 and a set of five tests can be purchased for US$199.99.

Be forewarned: the preparation of a sample for testing is exacting and time-consuming, and the results are based on visual judgement of colour change. Second, even if you get a high residue rating from the test, the level is likely still below EPA standards.

For consumers worried about long-term exposure to glyphosate and other chemical residues, the Detox Project has linked with Kudzu Science to provide the public with a number of at-home test kits which analyze a hair sample for a range of the most used pesticides at home and in agriculture as well as some industrial chemicals.

Rowland explains that urine tests for glyphosate only indicate residues from pesticides ingested recently. By testing the hair, consumers can get an indication of long-term exposure to glyphosate, pesticides, and industrial chemicals.

Depending on the pesticides and or chemicals you want to check for, tests range from US$149 for just glyphosate exposure up to US$499 for glyphosate plus a long list of agricultural and industrial chemicals.

These tests are available for order for worldwide purchase through the Detox Project website.

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