Weed Killer Hype Lacks Scientific Support


The latest Environmental Working Group (EWG) “study” sounds an alarm regarding the chemical known as glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide known as “Roundup.” EWG claims that Cheerios, Quaker Oats and other cereals contain dangerous levels of glyphosate. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has also jumped into the fray. He issued a press release claiming that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is hiding data regarding residues of glyphosate on produce, citing the EWG report as evidence that we need to be concerned. But don’t fall for it; there’s no science to support such ludicrous claims.

Both efforts, perhaps not coincidentally, coincide with the recent court case alleging that the Monsanto-produced chemical contributed to one man’s cancer, and more lawsuits are pending. But as I detailed last week, the science does not support claims that glyphosate is dangerous.

The residue levels of glyphosate or any other pesticide on food are simply too low to present any significant health concerns. The FDA regularly monitors such traces on food and has found that the overwhelming majority of food has no detectible or insignificant levels of pesticides. Even though there’s no real health concern, EWG’s junk science studies capture headlines and needlessly alarm people. I’ve addressed this in the past here, here, and here.

In this latest “study,” EWG claimed that EPA’s standards are not protective enough, so they basically developed their own safety standard. EWG’s standard is 10,000 times lower than the level EPA determined safe, which the Science Editor of Slate, Susan Matthews, points out is ridiculous. Matthews further puts it in perspective, noting:

Let’s talk about what that means in terms of how much cereal you actually eat. The EWG threshold of 0.01 milligram per day translates to a maximum of 160 parts per billion, given an assumed serving size of 60 grams, which is about 2 cups of cereal or ¾ cup of oatmeal. The parts per billion detected per food sample tested by EWG range from 10 to 1,300. So, yes, some of them cross the EWG threshold. None crosses California’s threshold, and none crosses the EPA threshold. In order to cross California’s very conservative threshold, you’d need to eat 7½ cups of the worst kind of oatmeal a day. In order to cross the EPA threshold, you’d need to eat 100 times that. You or your child would more likely get sick from simply eating hundreds of cups of cereal a day before you’d get sick from glyphosate.

And Schumer’s allegations are equally off base. The FDA reports that its research on glyphosate finds only insignificant traces on food, and there are no significant health concerns. The FDA says it will continue to monitor and issue reports on trace levels of glyphosate found on food. Unfortunately, you can be sure that EWG will continue to hype the issue and mislead people about the risks, even when FDA finds little exposure and no concerns.

We all need to remember that such tiny traces of glyphosate and pesticides found on food are simply too low to raise concerns, while the benefits to farmers and ultimately food production are substantial.