How to avoid glyphosate in food & protect yourself from potential damage
Before addressing the advice on how to avoid glyphosate in food, I would like to explain what glyphosate is and why we are utilizing it; more importantly, why we risk using it more and more if its usage will not be banned or restricted.
Why herbicides/weedkillers are used
Technological advancement and industrialisation of agricultural practices allow farmers to maximise food production. Considering the growing world population, this would seem to be necessary to combat world hunger (but first it would be better to eliminate food waste). In the 1970s, with the introduction of the Green Revolution, pesticides and high-performance fertilisers and then GMO seeds seemed to be powerful tools to achieve the goal: using less land and even less labour, harvesting more food was the dream of every ‘industrial’ farmer. In this respect, herbicides were an essential aid, given weeds, fierce competitors of crops for the nutrients and water offered by the soil, and can be responsible for a potential 34% reduction in yield .
Why glyphosate is the most popular herbicide
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world ; for many years better known as Roundup, the trade name under which it was marketed by Monsanto before being acquired by Bayer.
After the patent expired in ’91, its formula became public knowledge; as a result, it can be found in the ingredient list of more than 800 PPP (plant protection products). Today, glyphosate accounts for 60% of the herbicide market.
Nevertheless, its fame derives not from its gigantic numbers, but from its controversial nature.
Its sudden rise since its launch back in ’74 is due to initial research that glyphosate was just roses and flowers, no thorns: rapid absorption into the soil, high biodegradation capacity, lower toxicity to non-target organisms and it was pretty darn good at its role as a terminator of unwanted weeds.
However, there are several scientists who claim it is a bluff!
Exponential growth of glyphosate
In the first year of marketing (’74), the market volume of glyphosate was 3 thousand tonnes; after 20 years, it reached 56 thousand tonnes and in the following 20 years (2014), sales reached an impressive 825 thousand tonnes , practically a record! And if estimates are accurate, they will soon exceed one million tonnes.
This climb is due to the reduction in prices after the patent expiry, and also, if not mainly, due to the introduction in ’96 of GMO seeds created and developed precisely to resist glyphosate damage: without too much imagination ‘Roundup Ready (RR)’ or ‘Glyphosate Tolerant (GT)’.
Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the US from 1974 to 2014 occurred in the last ten years: so much so that these engineered seeds account for 56% of its use.
Unfortunately, it must be added that the most famous herbicide of all time is meanwhile gaining another large user base: since the mid-2000s, glyphosate is no longer only used to kill the weeds before sowing, but also during the pre-harvest phase; by facilitating drying the produce even in damp or cold weather, it is able to reduce both the time and the risks involved in natural harvesting; in addition, it speeds up ripening and even increases the yield. Isn’t that wonderful! (…)
With the new application technique, however, the residues on the plant were a bit higher; no problem, just change the tolerance levels in the animal feed! As the EPA came up with this bureaucratic ‘miracle’ .
There is a third reason why glyphosate is required in ever-increasing quantities: just as the reckless use of antibiotics caused the formation of antibiotic-resistant super germs, glyphosate-resistant super weed species sprang up (precisely in the last 45 years, some 38 weed species have developed resistance to the herbicide) .
The solution was simple: increase the dosage.
This is the reason why, unless better alternatives are found or its use is banned or restricted, we will need glyphosate more and more.
The glyphosate controversy: mechanism of action
Despite initial enthusiastic results, after a few decades and too many tonnes of Roundup (or other brands containing glyphosate) scattered over most arable land, as well as in forests and urban green areas (fortunately, the latter is banned in many countries), recent studies suggest that glyphosate can affect cell cycle regulation in both plants and animals (contrary to long-standing claims: glyphosate acts on what is called the Shikimate pathway, a fundamental mechanism in the plant kingdom for the biosynthesis of the aromatic amino acids vital to the plant; glyphosate inhibits the enzyme that catalyses this, causing the death of the plant. Since animals lack this ‘pathway’, it was believed that glyphosate could do no harm).
Human history is not free from mistakes made by science, more or less in good faith (…); in the case of glyphosate, it was not taking into account the bigger picture of toxicity, i.e. the living micro-organisms in symbiosis with animals (i.e. including us humans) and the soil.
The balance and health of the gut microbiome is crucial for a healthy existence of humans and animals [4, 5, 6], although the mechanisms are still not entirely clear.
Just as crucial is the health of the soil microbiome (including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa) .
Unfortunately, there are also other reasons that concern (and divide) the scientific community, in addition to the indirect effects mentioned above: glyphosate and its metabolites, AMPA, would increase the risk of cancer (the IARC – International Agency for Research on Cancer – in 2015 listed it as a 2A, a possible carcinogen); they would be responsible for endocrine disruption, celiac disease, autism, and effects on erythrocytes [8, 3, 9, 10].
The use of the conditional is not a random choice, since while some countries have already banned it (according to Human’s Right Watch 10 countries including Germany, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam) or restricted it (15 countries in addition to those already mentioned), those that postpone restrictions to the year of never are still too many (in 2017 Europe had extended authorisation until 15 December 2022, but then with a recent jibe postponed the final verdict to December 2023… for further verification).
I hope it is now clearer why we should all know how to avoid glyphosate in food, given that those in charge of our health evidently do not seem intent on protecting us adequately: and yes, there is the ‘Precautionary Principle’, present in the EU’s own functioning treaty, which intervenes where scientific questions are controversial.
Not to mention the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency), which washes its hands of the matter with the statement ‘Glyphosate products used according to label indications pose no risk to children or adults’, translated, in the event of damage, this would mean simply an eventual incorrect use of glyphosate .
NOTE: In addition to the effects described, there is another very long list of possible damage to the ecosystem, biodiversity and water reserves (both surface such as rivers, seas and oceans and underground), thus posing a real threat to animals, plants and microorganisms. For reasons of space I cannot deal with the specific issues, let it suffice to say that they are capable of influencing the future of the planet.
How to avoid glyphosate in food
We owe it to ourselves to learn how to avoid it; however, I do not want to give you false hope either: even if we strictly adhere to the following advices, avoiding glyphosate definetely is practically impossible!
Until it is permanently banned, there will be no escape for anyone, even those who buy exclusively organic.
There is no washing with baking soda or other home remedies that can help; not even cooking them (as I recommend here to reduce residues of other pesticides); because this chemical is absorbed by the plant (it does not remain only on the surface) and there is no way to get it out of its ‘hiding place’.
So perhaps the more realistic question is: how to avoid glyphosate in food as much as possible?
1 – The number 1 remedy is undoubtedly to grow your own food: in this way, in addition to glyphosate, you would avoid a myriad of plant protection products used widely in conventional agriculture.
2 – If you have no way of ensuring your self-sufficiency, then buying only organic would already be a good compromise: according to a 2020 study, consuming only organic food helps to significantly reduce glyphosate levels in your urine .
3 – However, it is my duty to point out that if the conscientious farmer has not used glyphosate at any stage of cultivation, there is always a considerable risk of contamination of crops by non-organic neighbours: migration occurs easily by wind or rain.
‘Zero Glyphosate Residue’ labelling is the solution that would remove all doubt.
4 – In case you have no access to either organic or ‘zero glyphosate residue’ due to their lower availability or budget issues, then the following suggestions are for you:
- as I explained in the article on Pesticides in Food and How to Avoid Them, first identify the group of foods known to be most at risk of glyphosate and AMPA residues: wheat, oats, barley, rye, beans, sunflowers, soya, quinoa, flax, chickpeas, lentils, peas and other legumes.
- then try to buy only those from organic farming; this would solve the problem of the family budget.
- if the problem is about logistics/ availability (outside of big urban centres it can be difficult to find organic food), all you have to do is identify the countries known for the use of glyphosate different than a herbicide (I am referring to the pre-harvest use for desiccation and ripening): therefore avoid buying the foods in the previous point (wheat, oats, etc.) if imported from Canada, the United States, France (in Italy this usage has been banned since 2016).
5 – Certainly avoid GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) food. Given the difficulty in knowing whether we are buying ‘normal’ GMOs or Roundup Ready, it would be advisable to avoid the following foods, when not expressly declared GMO-free: soya, maize, canola, sugar beet, wheat (GMO wheat is only grown in the USA, Australia, Colombia, New Zealand), rice, potatoes.
6 – What has been recommended so far is also valid for meat and other animal products; glyphosate is also used for cereals and legumes intended for feed (especially soya: about 80% of all soya cultivated in the world is destined for livestock farming).
If you cannot buy organic animal products, try to drastically reduce the amount of glyphosate, taking care however to remove the skin or fatty parts, where the highest concentrations of accumulated glyphosate are found.
7 – Avoid eating industrial or commercial food products subject to the use of these grains and legumes (including spirits), potentially containing glyphosate residues.
On the packaging we usually see the place of production, but the place of origin of the individual ingredients is not always mentioned.
Go DIY with safe ingredients instead: bread, biscuits, snacks, pizza, pasta, etc. will have less glyphosate and pesticides; they will cost less, be healthier and definitely taste much better.
8 – Finally, a credible list of things to do to avoid glyphosate in food could not fail to include some mention of drinking water.
It costs me a lot to write that tap water may contain glyphosate [13, 14, 15], especially if you live in agricultural areas; this is because glyphosate is a highly water-soluble substance.
Ask municipalities and/or drinking water managers to show you their laboratory analyses: if the residue levels are below the permitted limits, continue drinking it (to improve the taste of tap water read this guide), thus helping the production and consume of plastic; if not, consider installing reverse osmosis filters so as to avoid any contaminants, glyphosate above all; or buy spring water that states on the label that it does not contain glyphosate.
How to protect yourself from glyphosate introduced by food, air and water
Agreed, it is almost impossible to avoid it, but there is actually still something we can do to protect ourselves from damage of glyphosate once ingested via various vectors (food, water, air).
Glyphosate is an herbicide; technically, however, it is considered an antibiotic.
What do we do when we have to take antibiotics?
We have to assume a large number of probiotic and prebiotic foods.
I recommend reading this very detailed guide to know everything you need on probiotics.
In addition, our body will most need vitamin C and D and antioxidants such as glutathione and quercetin, as explained at length in the article ‘How to Strengthen Your Immune System‘.
In addition to this, for a healthy and sustainable diet based on quality instead of quantity, you can always follow the CHEtarian diet.
Considerations and conclusions
I decided to write this article after ECHA’s (European Chemicals Agency) decision not to consider glyphosate as a carcinogenic substance… It is a pity that, as was the case in 2017, they only took into consideration a number of biased studies financed by the same manufacturing industries, discarding other independent, few but peer-reviewed studies in which the role of glyphosate on the development of tumours is highlighted.
By now, it should be clear to everyone that no institution will credibly take care of our health, given the enormous interests at stake; unfortunately, what we are forced to fight is a war of individuals against the agribusiness giants; winning it is only possible if we responsibly take care of our health.
Poisons, for that is what it is all about, should be totally out of our food supply, either directly or indirectly. But when this is impossible, as in the case of glyphosate, we must remember that the dose makes the poison!
That is why it is necessary to know how to avoid glyphosate in food (and other pesticide-poisons).
That is why CHE Food Revolution exists: to provide you with all the tools you need to defend yourself in the best possible way and to increase your food awareness day by day.
Good revolution to you all
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2) Benbrook, C.M. Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally. Environ. Sci. Eur. 2016, 28, 1–15
3) Meftaul IM, Venkateswarlu K, Dharmarajan R, et al. Controversies over human health and ecological impacts of glyphosate: Is it to be banned in modern agriculture?. Environ Pollut. 2020;263(Pt A):114372
4) Fan, Y., Pedersen, O. Gut microbiota in human metabolic health and disease. Nat Rev Microbiol 19, 55–71 (2021)
5) Motta, Erick VS, Kasie Raymann, and Nancy A. Moran. “Glyphosate perturbs the gut microbiota of honey bees.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115.41 (2018): 10305-10310
6) Rueda-Ruzafa, Lola, et al. “Gut microbiota and neurological effects of glyphosate.” Neurotoxicology 75 (2019): 1-8.
7) Newman MM, Hoilett N, Lorenz N, Dick RP, Liles MR, Ramsier C, et al. Glyphosate effects on soil rhizosphere-associated bacterial communities. Sci Total Environ. 2016;543:155–60
8) IARC (2017) IARC Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans—volume 112: some organophosphate insecticides and herbicides
9) Tarazona, J.V.; Court-Marques, D.; Tiramani, M.; Reich, H.; Pfeil, R.; Istace, F.; Crivellente, F. Glyphosate toxicity and carcinogenicity: A review of the scientific basis of the European Union assessment and its differences with IARC. Arch. Toxicol. 2017, 91, 2723–2743.
10) Mesnage R., Defarge N., Spiroux de Vendômois J., Séralini G.E. Potential toxic effects of glyphosate and its commercial formulations below regulatory limits. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2015;84:133–153
11) Pagina web ufficiale dell’EPA sul glifosato www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/glyphosate
12) Fagan, John, et al. “Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary glyphosate levels in US children and adults.” Environmental research 189 (2020): 109898
13) The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Glyphosate and Drinking Water Report. October 2017
14) Rendon-von Osten, J., & Dzul-Caamal, R. (2017). Glyphosate Residues in Groundwater, Drinking Water and Urine of Subsistence Farmers from Intensive Agriculture Localities: A Survey in Hopelchén, Campeche, Mexico. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(6), 595. doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14060595
15) Rapporto ISPRA “Pesticidi nelle Acque” del 2015-2016
very inspirational useful article. Thank you
Thank you Gianfranco,
glad you have appreciated it.
Have a lovely Sunday