An environmental organization focused on achieving a healthier and more just world is celebrating the publication Tuesday of a groundbreaking study that found an organic diet radically decreases levels of the toxic herbicide glyphosate in the body.
The study—titled Organic Diet Intervention Significantly Reduces Urinary Glyphosate Levels in U.S. Children and Adults—was published in the journal Environmental Research and co-authored by Kendra Klein, a senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth.
In what FOE described as an unprecedented study to examine how an organic diet affects glyphosate intake, Klein and her co-authors looked at glyphosate levels in urine samples from four different families. The individuals studied spent six days on a non-organic diet and six days on an organic diet. In this time period, glyphosate levels in participants' bodies decreased an average of 70%.
"We all have the right to food that is free of toxic pesticides," said Klein, "but our federal regulatory system is broken and is not protecting us. We urgently need our elected leaders to make healthy organic food the norm for everyone by passing policies that support farmers to shift from pesticide-intensive to organic farming."
"The only way to dramatically reduce all Americans' exposure to this toxic weedkiller is for the Environmental Protection Agency to ban uses of the herbicide that lead to high levels in foods people eat." - Alex Tempkin, EWG
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup, an herbicide used as on wheat, corn, soy, canola, cotton, oats, beans, and in gardening and landscaping. It was introduced in the 1990s and, since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the dietary limit of residue exposure to glyphosate to be increased up to 300 times more than previous foods, despite previous research showing its harmful effects.
The chemical was flagged as a possible cause of cancer as early as the 1980s and was classified as a likely human carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015. Over time, it has been linked to human health conditions like kidney disease, hormone disruption, and shortened pregnancy. About 280 million pounds of glyphosate is sprayed annually in the U.S.
"The government has turned a blind eye for decades when it comes to monitoring glyphosate—failing to test for it on food and in our bodies," Klein and Anna Lappé, co-director of Real Food Media, wrote Tuesday in an op-ed for The Guardian.
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A string of court cases in 2019 linked plaintiffs' cancer with exposure to the use of Roundup, leading to an $180 million payout in damages from Bayer, the company that now owns Roundup after merging with Monsanto in 2018. According to Friends of the Earth, Bayer negotiated another settlement of $10 billion in the summer of 2020 and still has 30,000 more similar cases pending.
In July, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an analysis of lab testing that showed glyphosate in 90% of non-organic hummus and chickpea samples. Similar reports from the group found the chemical in popular breakfast cereals.
In animal studies, glyphosate has been shown to cause DNA damage, decreased sperm function, and fatty liver disease. It is also considered to be one of the causes of monarch butterfly and bee populations declining.
In a statement Wednesday about Klein's study, EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin noted that the "often-repeated claims by chemical agriculture and big food companies that there isn’t much difference between conventional and organic foods is wildly inaccurate, and this study is further proof of it."
"The levels of toxic crop chemicals like glyphosate that contaminate a wide swath of conventional foods are a main pathway of exposure for most adults and children," said Temkin. "The only way to dramatically reduce all Americans' exposure to this toxic weedkiller is for the Environmental Protection Agency to ban uses of the herbicide that lead to high levels in foods people eat."
Another important aspect of the new study: Children have significantly higher levels of exposure to glyphosate—about five times higher than the average level in adults.
"Growing up with this kind of chemical in their body will harm them," Sharyle Patton, director of Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center and a study author, told Environmental Health News. "It's a tragedy."