USDA Drops Plan to Test Food for Residual Levels of Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Herbicide)

glyphosate herbicide testing
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The USDA has quietly decided against testing for residues of glyphosate herbicide in food, after having spent much of last year coordinating with the EPA and the FDA to do so.

While a January 11 e-mail obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the USDA still planned to test foods for glyphosate residue at the beginning of this year, a USDA spokesman told the Huffington Post this week that the testing would not be carried out.

“The final decision for this year’s program plan, as a more efficient use of resources, is to sample and test honey which covers over 100 different pesticides,” said the spokesman, who did not wish to be named. Glyphosate residue testing requires a different methodology and will therefore not be part of this screening, he said.

The original USDA plan was to test 315 samples of corn syrup from around the U.S. beginning next month. The researchers would test not only for glyphosate, but also for AMPA metabolite, which is created as glyphosate breaks down.

In 2014, the Government Accountability Office published a report on FDA and USDA pesticide residue monitoring programs, noting that “FDA does not disclose in its annual monitoring reports that it does not test for several commonly used pesticides with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.”

FDA began testing for glyphosate residues last year in soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs. “Maybe we shamed them into it,” said John Neumann, a spokesman for the GAO FDA report.

The FDA glyphosate testing effort was suspended last fall, but not before one agency chemist found alarming levels of glyphosate herbicide in samples of U.S. honey and oatmeal.

“As testing for glyphosate will expand to several locations, we are currently working to ensure that the methods are validated for use in these labs,” said FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney of the decision to stop testing. She said that while the intention was to resume testing for glyphosate, FDA “cannot speculate on timing at this point.”

USDA and FDA test thousands of food samples for pesticide residues every year, but both agencies have generally declined to test for glyphosate herbicide residues, due in large part to cost of testing; USDA made an exception in 2011, when it tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate herbicide.

In 2015, the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate was likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.