Beyond Pesticides, May 30, 2014) This week, a group of concerned mothers and environmentalists met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to discuss a recent pilot study that detected glyphosate residues in breast milk. Organized by Mom’s Across of America, which is seeking to stop the sale and use of glyphosate, the meeting underscored the limitations of EPA’s pesticide registration program in addressing the real-life impacts of pesticides on children and the concerns of mothers surrounding the dangers of glyphosate in particular. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, is the most widely applied herbicide in the U.S., with uses ranging from genetically engineered (GE) crops to lawn turf.
The meeting with Moms Across America, Beyond Pesticides, Consumes Union, Organic Consumers Association, other groups and EPA came after Mom’s Across America’s five-day phone call campaign urging EPA to recall Roundup. Participants in the campaign made close to 10,000 calls to the agency.
The pilot study, supported by Moms Across America, looked at ten breast-milk samples from across America. Three of the ten breast milk samples tests reveal high levels of glyphosate, meaning that the amount of glyphosate found is between 76 ug/l to 166 ug/l. The highest glyphosate level detected in a mother is from Florida (166 ug/l) and the other two mothers with “positive” results are from Virginia (76 ug/l) and Oregon (99 ug/l). While these levels fall under the EPA drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 700 ug/l, across the pond in Europe this range of exposure is 1,000 higher than what is deemed acceptable.
“This is a poison and it’s in our food. And now they’ve found it in breast milk,” said Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, in a Reuters article. “Numerous studies show serious harm to mammals. We want this toxic treadmill of chemical cocktails in our food to stop.”
The pilot study is groundbreaking in contradicting the chemical industry’s assertion that glyphosate has little to no potential to bioaccumulate. By showing that this chemical does build up in human bodies, the finding of bioaccumulation raises a critical issue that advocates say, at the least, must be addressed in glyphosate’s reregistration process and tolerance setting process for the chemical in milk. The study sample size is clearly limited, but the groups told EPA during the meeting that a new independent U.S. study of glyphosate levels in breast milk is planned this year.
According to an eNews Park Forest post, Zen Honeycutt noted that during the two hour meeting EPA “fully listened” to what the group said, and it even appeared that, “We have some people on our side.” EPA staff said that they would include the milk study in their review “when protocols are met,” Honeycutt said.
Glyphosate is currently under registration review, the process through which EPA reviews each registered pesticide every 15 years to determine whether it continues to meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) standard for registration. Glyphosate’s first Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) was finalized in 1993, before the explosion of GE herbicide tolerant crops. A final work plan for the reregistration process was published in 2009 and set a goal to have the final registration review decision finished by 2015. Although the agency expects to have a preliminary risk assessment completed late this year, these assessments have been chronically delayed in the past.
Last year, EPA raised the permitted tolerance levels for glyphosate residues in several commodities. Some of the allowable limits, or tolerances, more than doubled.
Beyond breast milk, there are multiple other health concerns over the continued use of glyphosate. A recent MIT study finds that glyphosate’s interference with important enzymes in the body can lead to gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Drinking water contaminated with Roundup can lead to congestion of the lungs and increased breathing rate, as well as kidney damage and reproductive effects. Increasing tolerances on glyphosate means not only higher dietary exposure but also more glyphosate use.
Currently, the only way to avoid eating food grown with harmful synthetic pesticides like Roundup is by eating organic. For this and many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers. For more information on organic agriculture, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides