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FDA Finds Roundup Residue in Honey Supply, EPA Hearing On Glyphosate Set For October

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A prominent food watchdog group says that it has acquired documents indicating that the FDA has discovered traces of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, in the nation’s honey supply. 

U.S. Right to Know announced the results of an investigation on September 21, revealing that glyphosate has found its way into most U.S. honey.

The findings are significant, due to ongoing concerns that glyphosate may be a human carcinogen, and because it is an example of glyphosate’s pervasiveness, as honey is not believed to be produced with the use of glyphosate.

The group obtained records from the FDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many were heavily redacted, blocking out large portions of text. However, the records show that FDA researchers had trouble finding honey that does not contain glyphosate residue.

One researcher tested ten samples and all came back positive, including some brands that billed themselves as “all natural.” In some cases, levels were as high as 107 parts per billion (ppb).

According to U.S. Right to Know, an independent investigation conducted by the scientific research company Abraxis in 2015 also found glyphosate in the honey supply, with 41 of 69 samples testing positive at levels ranging from 17 to 163 ppb. The mean average was 64 ppb.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is likely a cancer-causing agent. In particular, the IARC report linked the side effects of Roundup to an increased risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

In February of this year, the FDA announced that, for the first time, it would begin looking for glyphosate residue in the U.S. food supply. However, the records acquired by U.S. Right To Know found that some FDA researchers had already found it in the food supply before that decision was made.

FDA regulations do not technically allow any amount of glyphosate in U.S. honey, one researcher noted in the documents. However, some FDA researchers said the detection of glyphosate was not a matter of concern.

“The bee farmers are not breaking any laws; rather glyphosate is being introduced by the bees,” Chris Sack, an FDA chemist involved in pesticide residue testing, said in one of the obtained records. “While the presence of glyphosate in honey is technically a violation, it is not a safety issue.”

The investigation’s findings came as the EPA issued its own findings on glyphosate, which disagreed with the IARC assessment. EPA investigators said that glyphosate was not a likely carcinogen, although they noted they could not rule out an increased risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma may be linked to the herbicide.

The EPA has announced that it will hold public hearings on glyphosate risks on October 18-21 in Arlington, Virginia.

Monsanto has aggressively defended the safety of Roundup, one of the most import products for the company, criticizing the IARC’s decision and dismissing safety concerns as agenda driven and based on “junk science.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also conflicted with the IARC findings, declaring glyphosate to be safe. However, several countries in the EU have moved to ban glyphosate use, despite the European Commission’s decision to extend the license for glyphosate use for 12 to 18 months in late June.

Roundup Litigation

As debate continues within the regulatory community, Monsanto now faces a growing number of Roundup cancer lawsuits filed throughout the United States, typically involving individuals diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following heavy exposure to the herbicide as a farm or agricultural worker.

The complaints allege that the manufacturer recklessly promoted Roundup and pushed greater and greater use of the chemical, without disclosing the potential health risks.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.

In all that time, the FDA has never tested for residue or buildup in the food sold to Americans nationwide. In a report published in 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the FDA for this deficiency in its pesticide program.

The lawsuits over Roundup allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.

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