Even Dirtier Food, Brought to You by the Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA increases herbicide tolerance (again), allowing even more glyphosate to threaten the health of farmers, eaters and the environment.

Soon, the carrots you eat will be allowed to contain more herbicide residue, thanks to an EPA ruling that raises the tolerance level for glyphosate. (Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

Just when it seemed the United States Department of Agriculture might finally be taking a second look at crops engineered to resist pesticide application, another branch of government, the Environmental Protection Agency, now seems poised to raise the level of pesticides that can be sprayed on our food.

Apparently taking its orders from chemical giant Monsanto—which manufactures both agricultural chemicals and transgene plants that are resistant to them—the EPA hiked the amount of residue from the herbicide glyphosate that is allowed on several foods we eat, including carrots, sweet potatoes and mustard seeds. While the latest pesticide hike is geared toward non-GE crops rather than genetically engineered “Roundup-ready” crops, Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, tells TakePart that higher levels of glyphosate residues means farmers will spray our food with more herbicides and pesticides—increasing the health risks for humans, animals and the environment.

“The formula in its product (Roundup) is a lot more toxic than glyphosate alone,” Freese says. “It’s very toxic to amphibians, but there have been studies linking Roundup to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans, which kills 30 percent of those who contract it. Farmers generally have less cancer overall because of their active lifestyles, but they show higher rates of this type of cancer. That’s really scary.”

A June 2013 study out of Thailand found that glyphosate “exerted proliferative effects in human hormone-dependent breast cancer.” This followed an MIT study in April that concluded that “glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins,” adding that glyphosate’s “negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.” Scary indeed.

According to its website, the EPA sets tolerances for pesticide residues that may be found on food:

In establishing tolerances, EPA considers the toxicity of each pesticide, how much of the pesticide is applied and how often, and how much of the pesticide (i.e., the residues) remains in or on food. An added margin of safety ensures that residues remaining in foods are many times lower than amounts that could actually cause adverse health effects.

The pesticide tolerances set by EPA are enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, which monitors domestically produced and imported foods traveling in interstate commerce except meat, poultry, and some egg products.

This latest Monsanto-related controversy follows the case of the “zombie wheat” from earlier this year, where an Oregon farmer found Roundup-resistant wheat on his property, despite the crop’s absence from commercial production. (Monsanto was publicly skeptical that the GE wheat was its creation.)

Today, July 1, is the last day the EPA will be accepting public comments on the planned herbicide residue hike. Electronic comments may be made here. After today, the policy will go into effect immediately. Freese, of the Center for Food Safety, says he’d be “very surprised” if the EPA altered its ruling in any way in response to objections.

“They only look at the active ingredient itself (glyphosate) rather than the entire formula,” Freese says, “and they rely almost entirely on the companies contesting (Monsanto).”

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