Glyphosate is a herbicide that’s commonly used to manage the way plants grow, to kill undesired plants, and to prepare crops for harvest. GMO crops are created to withstand glyphosate, allowing the pesticide to selectively kill unwanted plants without harming food crops. Other non-GMO crops like various fruits and vegetables may also be sprayed with glyphosate so that they can be harvested more quickly.
Glyphosate is also found in commercial weed killers used on lawns or in gardens. External exposure to plants that have been sprayed by glyphosate and are still wet can cause respiratory irritation, as well as irritation to the skin and eyes. Moreover, some research surmises that with long-term exposure to products containing glyphosate (like Roundup), there is an increased risk for certain chronic illnesses.
While many of us are not regularly exposed to high levels of glyphosate, we are exposed to this ingredient internally by consuming the foods it is sprayed with. The list of foods that have been found to contain glyphosate residue is long, including soybeans, corn, oats, wheat and legumes and products made of these ingredients like cereals, oatmeals, pastas, and others. Fresh produce like apples, lemons, cucumbers, certain berries, potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, olives, pomegranate, walnuts, and others also have been shown to contain residue amounts of this ingredient.
There has been a long debate around the safety of this chemical. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IAERC) identified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. There have also been claims suggesting a connection between glyphosate with celiac disease, reproductive and developmental issues, and an increased risk for pregnant women and children. These claims have been widely debated.
Other international agencies like the European Food Safety Authority suggest there is no harm when glyphosate is used correctly and only found in trace amounts. For all of the research that suggests there could be harm with this ingredient, there is research that suggests otherwise.
Because of the mixed research on this topic, I prefer to take a conservative approach and minimize my exposure to this chemical, along with all other pesticides. To limit exposure, buy organic where possible as glyphosate is banned from organic farming. However, organic does not guarantee your products are glyphosate-free. For example, the World Health Organization found traces of glyphosate in certain organic oat products. These products were found to have levels that were deemed safe, but residue was present nonetheless. To mitigate exposure, select whole, fresh foods that are ideally organic and from a local farmer that you trust, if/when possible. If you consume animal products, inquire about what the animals were fed, as crops with glyphosate residue may have been fed to the animal you are consuming. If possible, consider growing your own fruits and vegetables and use organic seeds and soil. Avoid processed foods, and be mindful of where your food is coming from if you do not have access to local items as certain countries and jurisdictions have different laws around what they do and do not allow in foods.