The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the nation’s chief food safety regulator, plans to start testing certain foods for residues of the world’s most widely used weed killer, Roundup (chemical name – glyphosate). The FDA move comes after the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) pushed for such an assessment, and rebuked the FDA for not disclosing its short-coming to the public. The issue is important because the world authority on cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the herbicide glyphosate ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ in its latest expert assessment.
FDA officials dubbed the issue ‘sensitive’ and declined to provide many details of the plans, but they do state that they are considering assignments for Fiscal Year 2016 to measure glyphosate in soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs, and other potential foods. Soybeans, sugar beets and corn are commonly sprayed with glyphosate, the most commonly used agricultural herbicide.
Private companies, academics, and consumer groups are also testing for glyphosate residues and have recently claimed to have detected such residues in honey, cereal, wheat flour, soy sauce, infant formula, breast milk and other substances.
Since over 90% of corn and soy grown in the US is genetically modified to accept the spraying of Roundup, most packaged food contains these GMO crops. Vermont recently passed a law, effective July !st, 2016, to require labeling of foods containing GMO products. However, this law was opposed by the food industry and a majority of members of Congress. They countered with a bill, signed into law by President Obama, which allowed food companies to use QR codes instead of words on the package. A QR code is an array of black and white squares that can be read by a smart phone, after the application is downloaded. Clearly this revision of the Vermont law will make in unlikely that most consumers will know whether there are genetically modified products – generally from corn, soy and sugars - in their packaged foods. For many people looking for transparency and the right to know, this is distressing. Stay tuned, I will write more about this topic in future columns.
Sadja Greenwood, MD,MPH