Snopes on Wheat & Glyphosate Toxicity

Shortly after the HomeEconomist blog (The real reason wheat is toxic) on glyphosate went viral, this Snopes comment was published: http://www.snopes.com/food/tainted/roundupwheat.asp
I’ve replied to the HomeEconomist but The Snopes comment also needs a reply, so here goes:

1. Pre-harvest dessication using glyphosate.
face sugar-cane-276242_640This is not widely done for wheat, at least at present. However, it is done on sugar cane. The Samsel & Seneff review provides references on the use of glyphosate to speed maturation of sugar cane and to increase its sucrose content.
A simple google search will turn up more, such as this one:
“The common practice in Colombia is to desiccate the sugarcane foliage prior to harvesting, by spraying glyphosate, one month before the scheduled harvesting” (http://www.haifa-group.com/knowledge_center/recommendations/field_crops/). There is also some evidence of use of glyphosate to dessicate sweet potatoes. These pre-harvest uses are in addition to the use of glyphosate to kill weeds in the field that might interfere with crop growth.
2. Glyphosate residue on wheat.
     Although glyphosate is not used pre-harvest on wheat or other grain crops, the government has approved a higher residue of glyphosate on wheat than on many other crops. Residue limits on wheat are presently 30 ppm versus a 2 ppm on sugar cane. So glyphosate on wheat is not unheard of, even if not used pre-harvest.
3. Varieties of Wheat:
     In my admittedly limited research, I learned that France appears to use many of the same hybrid varieties as the U.S. does. So I tend to question assertions such as those made by William Davis in the book “Wheat Belly” that the “problem” with wheat in the United States is due to the many hybrid varieties developed and used in commerce.
4. Increase in celiac disease.
     The data on the increased incidence of celiac disease is quite solid and set out in full in the Samsel & Seneff review.
5. Increases in wheat sensitivities:
     The Samsel & Seneff review does not focus on an increase in wheat sensitivities (as opposed to allergies or celiac disease). Instead, they link the increased exposure to glyphosate from ALL sources to an increased incidence of sensitivities to a variety of different foods.
     Much research remains to be done in this arena. Glyphosate is not directly toxic to humans but it is known to affect bacteria and some plants negatively. As a result, it follows that the glyphosate residue on our food could affect our intestinal bacteria negatively. Research today emphasizes the importance of a healthy intestinal flora. Our intestinal bacteria are critical to not only our digestive health but also to avoiding food allergies and many other illnesses. As a result, the data linking glyphosate and illness has a very logical basis.
6. The Samsel & Seneff review is lengthy and well referenced.
     This review demonstrates the real possibility that the use of glyphosate on our food may be detrimental to our health. It, however, does not focus on wheat as being an especial culprit in this problem.
     Thus, the Homeeconomist did a great job of bringing attention to an important issue but did a poor job of understanding that neither gluten nor wheat is the problem. Instead, it is the use of glyphosate in increasing amounts (the European Union is considering raising its glyphosate limits on wheat, rice, etc. to match those of the US and the FDA recently raised the residue limits on US foods) on so many of our GM food crops (such as sugar beets) combined with an increasing interest in using glyphosate pre-harvest on crops such as sugar cane.
     And heaven knows most Americans eat too much sugar and that source may well be the biggest culprit.
blog larger9908393976_08a2df48cf_z
Photograph “Sugar cane” public domain by Schreib-Engel
Photograph “Bag of cane sugar” blog man counter circle by Alex Juel
NOTE: You are welcome to use my blog’s original images and content for non-commercial purposes but only if you attribute the work to me (Kathy Abascal) and link back to the blog. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
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About kathyabascal

Herbalist with a background in neurobiology, biochemistry, and law. Teacher of the TQIDiet, how to quiet inflammation with food.
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4 Responses to Snopes on Wheat & Glyphosate Toxicity

  1. Caroline Sullivan says:

    I no longer regard Snopes as good source of information. It is up to we the consumers to make up our own minds about the use of chemicals to produce our foods. Is there any data on the use of glyphosates on sweet potatoes? I recently read/saw that a GMO potato is being developed. I grow a lot of my own potatoes but sweet potatoes are problematic here in my garden.

    • kathyabascal says:

      I actually think Snopes is a good thing, at least for the most part.
      I’m not sure how to answer your question on sweet potatoes. Glyphosate has been approved for use on them. There is a residue level set for them and I am sure glyphosate is used for weed control in some sweet potato fields. Organic sweet potatoes are widely available, however, for those of us who want to avoid pesticide residue.
      I think GM potatoes have been around for some time. I saw an article stating that most were sold in China and had for the most part been rejected in the US. But that’s a different topic altogether.

  2. Bill Yake says:

    When I searched online for actual data on glyphosate residues in US wheat, flour, or wheat products I could find almost none. And in searching for federal ‘standards’ for permissible concentrations in wheat, could find only these ‘tolerances’ (http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=ce427c6c5e9dbbf6029848bfa3f90f37&node=se40.24.180_1364&rgn=div8) which didn’t appear to include wheat for human consumption — so am curious about the source of your 30 ppm ‘residue limit’. It also appears that the ‘inert’ chemicals in Roundup may magnify its toxicity: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/weed-whacking-herbicide-p/

    • kathyabascal says:

      If you google “approved pesticide residue on food” you’ll find a wealth of government information on pesticide residues but, of course, allowable residue is not the same as actual residue. Information on that is much more difficult to get. A GAO report criticized the EPA and USDA as follows: “[T]he GAO said that the agency does not disclose in its annual monitoring reports that it does not test for several pesticides with an Environmental Protection Agency established tolerance (the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on or in a food) — including glyphosate, the most used agricultural pesticide. Glyphosate can be applied directly to genetically modified grain, soybeans and cotton crops designed to be resistant to the herbicide, but also is applied to soil prior to planting a wide variety of crops, including fruits and vegetables.” – See more at: http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/GAO-study-finds-pesticide-residue-programs-have-room-for-improvem-283083381.html#sthash.Qj5OpDwT.dpuf
      So, accurate residue data is hard to come by.
      When it comes to acute toxicity to humans, yes, the inert ingredients in RoundUp do appear to have a greater toxicity. However, while not especially toxic in that sense to us, glyphosate is toxic to bacteria. Hence the concern that much of the problems we experience when exposed to glyphosate may be due to a very negative effect on our intestinal flora.

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