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FDA Emails Reveal 'Probably Carcinogenic' Herbicide in Common Grocery Items

Internal agency emails show store-bought food items contain a 'fair amount' of glyphosate.

There's a good chance that you've been eating trace levels of glyphosate: a chemical herbicide that the World Health Organization considers to be "probably carcinogenic to humans."

According to internal emails from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration obtained by The Guardian, FDA chemists have found that common groceries like "wheat crackers, granola cereal, and corn meal" have "a fair amount [of glyphosate] in all of them."

The emails, obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, reveal that the FDA has been testing food samples for glyphosate residues over the past two years but has not released any official results yet.

In one instance, an FDA chemist found "over the tolerance" levels of glyphosate in corn, The Guardian reported. The sample contained 6.5 parts per million (ppm) and the legal limit is 5.0 ppm. Because the corn was not considered an official sample, the FDA wouldn't be able to "assign any regulatory status." As for the official samples the FDA has tested, an employee stated in that same email that the chemists have "found no violations for glyphosate in any official sample we have tested including corn, soybean, milk and egg."

These tests are a first for the government agency, which "has never monitored glyphosate and the acid herbicides in its regulatory pesticide program," as detailed in one page included in the FOIA request. The FDA is currently conducting these tests to consider whether glyphosate "would be added to its pesticide residue monitoring program."

The FDA began its pesticide residue monitoring program to test food samples and monitor for illegally high residue levels in 1987. Although glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and is currently the most widely-used herbicide globally, the FDA does not include it in its tests of food samples. In light of the WHO's classification that the chemical is probably carcinogenic to humans and with the state of California listing glyphosate as a known human carcinogen under its Proposition 65 law in July 2017, the FDA's lack of toxicity monitoring is particularly concerning.

Glyphosate has been linked to tumors in mice and rats as well as DNA damage to human cells, liver and kidney damage, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Eat This! Tip

To reduce your exposure to pesticides, the Environmental Working Group recommends opting for organic produce whenever possible for their Dirty Dozen foods, which include apples, berries, and spinach. Shoppers who report they "often or always" buy organic produce have significantly fewer organophosphate insecticides (one of which is glyphosate) in their urine samples, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Environment Health Perspectives.

Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia
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