Organic Broadcaster

Levels of cancer-linked glyphosate in urine drop 71% after week on organic diet

By Kendra Klein

In the Organic for All study published in 2019 and showcased at the 2019 MOSES Conference, Friends of the Earth compared levels of pesticides present in participants before and after switching to an organic diet. Study results recently have been updated to include glyphosate—the main ingredient in Roundup and the most widely used pesticide in the world. Test results show levels of glyphosate dropped by 71% after just six days on an organic diet, and its main metabolite, AMPA (amino- methyl phosphonic acid) dropped by 76%.

“As a parent, seeing these results is shocking,” said Scott Hersrud, a father of three from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His family was part of the peer-reviewed study evaluating whether an organic diet could make a difference in the levels of pesticides found in their bodies. “If my kids have this much of a change in their numbers,” Hersrud added, “what would other families have?” 

The answer to that question is increasingly clear thanks to this study, which is part of a comprehensive scientific analysis showing that switching to an organic diet rapidly and dramatically reduces exposure to pesticides, including glyphosate, organophosphates, pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and 2,4-D.

Source of both charts: Friends of the Earth

This new analysis is the first to look at how an organic diet affects exposure to glyphosate. We tested four families in Minneapolis, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Oakland. Each family ate their typical non-organic diet for six days followed by a completely organic diet for six days. Every day, we collected urine samples from the families and sent them to an independent lab, Health Research Institute, for analysis. While only 16 people participated, our findings are statistically significant. 

In the United State, over 280 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to farm fields annually. On average, 84% is used on genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” soybeans, corn, and cotton. However, it’s also approved for use on over 100 other crops.

Glyphosate is linked to a range of health problems. It is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization and has been linked to high rates of kidney disease in farming communities and to shortened pregnancy in a cohort of women in the Midwest. Animal studies and bioassays link glyphosate and its formulations to endocrine disruption, DNA damage, decreased sperm function, disruption of the gut microbiome, and fatty liver disease.

Government failure to regulate glyphosate has led to increasing exposure. Glyphosate was flagged as a  potential carcinogen as far back as 1983  by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yet use of the chemical has grown exponentially in the market dominated by Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer in 2018. An extensive set of internal company documents uncovered by a spate of high profile lawsuits reveal how Monsanto’s influence over the EPA succeeded in suppressing health concerns.

Despite the ubiquitous use of this pesticide, we understand very little about our exposure. Only two previous studies have evaluated how many Americans have it in our bodies. Our study found glyphosate in all of the participants, including children as young as four. Strikingly, the average level of glyphosate in children was approximately five times higher than in adults.

Parents have good reason to be concerned about their children’s exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides. While pesticide food residues often fall below levels that regulators consider safe, U.S. regulations have not kept pace with the latest science. They ignore the compounding effects of our daily exposures to a toxic soup of pesticides and other industrial chemicals. Regulators also set one “safe” level for all of us, failing to reflect that we can have higher risk at different times in our lives, including in utero and as children. 

In addition, we now know that incredibly small amounts of certain chemicals can disrupt our hormone systems. These “endocrine disruptors” can scramble, block, or mimic critical cellular mechanisms in our bodies, increasing risk of cancers, learning disabilities, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, and reproductive disorders. Along with glyphosate, over 50 pesticides are associated with endocrine disruption. 

Pesticide levels before and after switching to an organic diet.

It’s time to make organic food the norm rather than the exception. Organic food is often treated as if it’s an individual shopping preference when, in fact, it is a human rights issue. We all have the right to food that is free of toxic pesticides. People living in farm communities should have the right to be free of exposure to toxic pesticides, starting with the children who live and go to school near farm fields where pesticides are sprayed and including farmers and farmworkers who are exposed daily. The way we farm should protect rather than harm the biodiversity, soil, and water that sustain all life.

Creating an organic food system would require shifting taxpayer dollars from propping up a pesticide-intensive farming system to supporting an equitable organic food system for all U.S. farmers and communities. We can look to the European Union for some inspiration of how this can be done. This year, the EU announced plans to halve use of pesticides by 2030 and transition at least 25% of agriculture to organic. 

The good news is we already have the solution—we know how to grow abundant organic food. Together, we can continue to work to create a food system where organic is for all

Kendra Klein, Ph.D., is Senior Staff Scientist with Friends of the Earth.


From the September | October 2020 Issue


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