The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has abandoned plans to begin testing food samples for residues of glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.
Since January of 2016, the USDA has been preparing a plan for glyphosate residue testing on samples of corn syrup beginning in April of 2017. But according to an unidentified USDA spokesperson, no glyphosate residue testing will be conducted by the agency this year.
“The final decision for this year’s program plan, as a more efficient use of resources, is to sample and test honey which covers over 100 different pesticides,” said the USDA official, who added that testing for glyphosate residues requires an altogether different protocol and will not be part of the testing.
According to documents obtained by U.S. Right to Know under the Freedom of Information Act, the USDA planned to collect 315 corn syrup samples from various places throughout the country for testing. Researchers would test for the AMPA metabolite (aminomethylphosphonic acid), which is a byproduct of glyphosate’s metabolism by microorganisms. Measuring residues that include those from AMPA is important because scientists believe that AMPA carries its own set of safety concerns.
USDA Has Limited Track Record on Glyphosate Residue Testing Despite Link to Cancer
The USDA has demonstrated a reluctance to perform glyphosate residue testing on food, even though the agency routinely tests numerous of food samples for pesticides every year. According to the most recent USDA report from 2015, only 15 percent of the 10,187 samples taken were free from detectable pesticide residues. By comparison, in 2014, 41 percent of the samples taken were considered free from detectable pesticide residues.
For decades, the USDA and the FDA have tested thousands of foods every year for residues from pesticides, weed killers and other chemicals to ensure that American families aren’t unwittingly consuming agricultural chemicals at harmful levels.
If either agency finds chemical residues in food above the “maximum residue level” (MRL), they are supposed to tell the EPA so action can be taken against the supplier. The EPA establishes MRLs (also known as “tolerances”) for various types of pesticides and interfaces with USDA and FDA on their pesticide testing programs.
Despite the steep growth in glyphosate use throughout the country over the last couple of decades, the USDA and the FDA have only performed glyphosate residue testing once. In 2011, the USDA found that 271 samples out of 300 total contained glyphosate residues. The contaminated samples were found to be at lower levels than the MRL.
The FDA actually started a testing program for glyphosate last year but it was suspended in the fall. Prior to the suspension, however, a chemist found disturbing amounts of glyphosate in honey cultivated in the U.S. The same chemist also found glyphosate in samples of oatmeal, including oat cereal for infants.
The lack of glyphosate residue testing has opened up both agencies to fierce criticism from consumer advocates and other government agencies. In 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) took both the USDA and the FDA to task for failing to regularly test food for glyphosate residues.
The USDA justifies its stance on glyphosate residue testing by saying it is too expensive. And because glyphosate is considered safe, the agency has stated, testing would be a waste of time. This line of thinking is directly in line with Monsanto’s, which has said glyphosate testing is a “misuse of valuable resources.”
Court Documents Point to Collusion Between Monsanto and EPA
In contrast to the U.S. government’s stance on testing food for glyphosate, Canada will soon release its own findings from recent glyphosate testing.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) began testing for glyphosate in 2015 following a report from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC report listed glyphosate as a Group 2A herbicide, which means that it is a probable human carcinogen. Per the IARC, the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and several other hematopoietic cancers.
The IARC report prompted hundreds of people from across the U.S. to file lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Court documents in the litigation have uncovered a “highly suspicious” relationship between Monsanto and the EPA, and internal Monsanto emails indicate that the agrochemical giant may have ghostwritten scientific papers that regulators relied on in assessing the safety of glyphosate.
The docs prompted Congressman Ted Lieu (D – Los Angeles County) to call for a Department of Justice investigation into Monsanto’s questionable practices.
“New questions about the safety of Monsanto weed killer Roundup are deeply troubling,” Congressman Lieu wrote in a statement. “I worked on the glyphosate issue last term and I believe consumers should immediately stop using Roundup, whose core ingredient glyphosate has been labeled a likely carcinogen and has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. We need to find out if Monsanto or the Environmental Protection Agency misled the public.”