Glyphosate in Food: Should You Worry?
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in RoundUp. Its residues have been found in foods. Is our food safe? The short answer: Yes
Determining the safe (or unsafe) level of the residues in food is based on the exposure it causes, or its “dose” – thus the saying “the dose makes the poison.” Take, for example, the recent death of a personal trainer who overdosed on caffeine. The man had mismeasured the recommended amount of caffeine powder, scooping into his drink 0.2 ounces (5,670 mg) of the powder, for which the maximum recommended dose is 0.01 ounce (300 mg). The dose makes the poison.
Let’s apply the same analysis to glyphosate, taking two studies into consideration:
- In its approval of active substances, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determines acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels for each, which provide the estimated amount of a substance in food/drink that can be consumed daily without an appreciable risk to health, the ADI represents the safe dose that can be regularly consumed. In 2015, EFSA concluded glyphosate to have an ADI of 0.5 mg/1.0 kg (0.5 mg/1.1 lb) body weight per day.
- In 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a study of glyphosate in cereals, finding them to contain up to 2837 parts per billion (ppb). The study tested serving sizes of 56 grams (~9 ounces/serving).
- According to the EFSA, the glyphosate ADI for a 5 kg (11 lb) toddler would be 2.5 mg/day.
- For the highest value found by the EWG study, the amount of glyphosate per serving would be ~0.16 mg.
- From a calculation of these: the toddler would need to eat more than 15 servings – about 2 boxes – of the cereal each day to exceed the ADI.
It’s safe to say that detected amounts of glyphosate do not represent a toxicological risk to consumers – including sensitive individuals.
So why the hype?
Glyphosate has not been correctly characterized from a toxicological perspective. Detection of a compound does not necessarily put the product at risk. With glyphosate analytically assessed by the EFSA and the hazard defined through robust data, we can appropriately determine risk.
Fear sells. But ultimately, it takes away from true food safety risks that require our attention.