More Concerns About Glyphosate Herbicide Residues In Produce

Consumer Reports asks the government to take action

Published: April 10, 2015 09:30 AM

If you’re worried about pesticides in produce, Consumer Reports’ recent risk analysis of 48 fruits and vegetables can help you make smart choices. But we still think the produce aisle can be made a lot safer. That’s why Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, shared our pesticide report with several government agencies. We urged both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to expand and improve efforts to measure pesticide residues.  

We also recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reexamine the research it currently uses to set pesticide tolerance limits for produce and other foods. The fact that pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables are generally below EPA tolerance limits sometimes leads people to conclude that any pesticide-related health risks from fruit and vegetables are negligible. But our experts say that in setting those limits, the agency doesn’t sufficiently factor in pesticides’ potential to increase risks of cancer, neurological damage in children or disruption to the body’s endocrine system, which can cause reproductive disorders, birth defects and immune system damage.

Consult our special report on pesticides in produce for more information on the risks pesticide exposure for dozens of fruits and vegetables, and read more about the risks of glyphosate in our diets.

Concerns about pesticide-tainted food were heightened recently when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that based on a review of current scientific evidence, glyphosate—the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, —should be classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” That decision was made unanimously by a group of 17 oncology experts from 11 different countries who were selected not only for their experience in the study and treatment of cancer, but also because they met WHO conflict of interest standards. Glyphosate is the most commonly used agricultural pesticide in the U.S.

The risk from glyphosate exposure is largely unknown—but potentially huge. It has been detected in the air and water near fields where it is sprayed, but we don’t know how much of it is in the food we eat because the federal government doesn’t routinely test fruits, vegetables or other crops for glyphosate residues.

Glyphosate is now found not just in Roundup but more than 750 products, including those used to kill weeds on farms and in suburban lawns and gardens. The use of the chemical has increased tenfold in the past 20 years because many crops-—including the vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S.—are genetically engineered to survive being doused with the weed killer.   

“This new evidence that glyphosate may pose a more serious health threat than previously believed urgently underscores the need for federal regulators to expand and improve safety assessments and monitoring for glyphosate and all commonly used pesticides,” says Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist at Consumers Union.

—Andrea Rock

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