Why Farmers Are Using Glyphosate To Kill Their Crops — And What It Might Mean For You

A common herbicide is ending up in our food, thanks to the growing practice of using it to dry crops in preparation for harvest.


Published:

It was the spring of 1978 and I was 7 years old when the first scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream were sold in Burlington, Vermont, about an hour from the rural home I shared with my parents and infant sister. I don’t remember when I got my first taste, but it probably wasn’t long after that, and it was the beginning of a nearly four-decade love affair that continues to this day.

Two years before the first Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop opened, the U.S. food system saw another first: The introduction of the herbicide glyphosate, commonly sold under the trade name Roundup. Glyphosate was introduced in the U.K. and Malaysia in 1974, but didn’t gain regulatory approval in North America until 1976, where it quickly earned favor in the agricultural industry for its weed-killing abilities. In the mid-1990s, genetically modified, glyphosate-resistant soybeans were introduced (other crops, including corn, canola, alfalfa and sorghum soon followed), allowing for broad-spectrum applications of the herbicide throughout the growing season and resulting in a massive uptick in use that, like my fondness for premium ice cream, continues unabated.

Another use that few consumers are aware of also has contributed to increased glyphosate use: Pre-harvest crop desiccation. Originating in Scotland in the 1980s, this practice involves applying the herbicide to a standing crop toward the end of the growing season with the express purpose of expediting the natural process that would occur, where a crop slowly dies and dries in the field. The glyphosate kills the crop so it can be dry enough to harvest sooner than if it were left to die naturally — allowing the farmer to clear the field before the onset of unfavorable weather. Given how long they are usually in storage, the moisture levels of grain crops need to be low enough to store without getting moldy. The practice has since gained significant traction in North America, particularly in the northern regions of the Great Plains and the grain belt of Midwestern and western Canada, where cold, wet weather comes early.

For these farmers glyphosate-induced pre-harvest crop desiccation provides a couple other advantages. The accelerated drying process reduces potential post-harvest energy inputs, such as the need to use a grain dryer. The practice also generates a physiological “last gasp” response in less mature plants that expedites ripening and helps them “catch up” to their companions, ensuring more consistent yields. This in turn allows successive crops to be sowed earlier and improves weed control.

Currently, few statistics exist regarding the acreage subject to glyphosate desiccation or the overall quantity of glyphosate use for drying, but there’s little doubt that the practice is expanding across a variety of crops including corn, peas, soybeans, flax, rye, lentils, triticale, buckwheat, canola, millet, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans and other edible legumes.

As a result, glyphosate has been showing up in trace amounts in food — including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream — raising red flags among consumer groups and even causing companies to change their sourcing to avoid contamination.

The exact timing of the application depends on a number of factors, but generally ranges from three to seven days before the onset of harvesting activities. And herein lies a potential explanation for the appearance of glyphosate in Ben & Jerry’s, as well as a large number of other food products. “Pre-harvest desiccation may account for only a small percentage of overall glyphosate use,” says Charles Benbrook, a visiting scholar at the Bloomberg School of Public Health who has spent more than a decade studying the use of glyphosate and associated health risks. “But it accounts for over 50 percent of dietary exposure.”

Health Concerns

So what? That depends on whom you ask. The accepted regulatory stance is that glyphosate is relatively benign; indeed, in 2015 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased threshold levels in both oats and wheat; in the case of oats, the allowable threshold for final processed grain was raised from 0.1 parts per million (ppm) to 30 ppm. For its part, Monsanto claims that glyphosate poses no health risk when used according to label instructions. And, in December 2017, the EPA released a draft human health risk assessment stating that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans, or present other meaningful risks, assuming the product is used according to labeling instructions — supporting Monsanto’s long-held position.

“There never has been, and still to this day there remains, not much certainty regarding the health risks associated with glyphosate.” – Charles BenbrookNot everyone agrees that glyphosate is as innocuous as its manufacturer and the EPA would have us believe, however. The World Health Organization, for one, has classified it as a possible carcinogen, as has the state of California. And although the European Union recently voted to reauthorize the use of glyphosate, license was granted for only five years, rather than the 15 years sought.

“There never has been, and still to this day there remains, not much certainty regarding the health risks associated with glyphosate,” says Benbrook.

Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suspects there is a link between increased uses of glyphosate — largely via the process of pre-harvest desiccation — and celiac disease, which has increased dramatically in recent years, particularly among adolescents. “Wheat-based products are showing up with a lot of glyphosate on them, and glyphosate interferes with protein digestion,” says Seneff (celiac disease is triggered by gluten, a protein).

No matter whose version of the health impacts one believes, one thing is clear: Many consumers do not find the idea glyphosate in their food an appetizing one. To this end, Ben & Jerry’s has pledged to stop sourcing ingredients subject to glyphosate-induced pre-harvest desiccation by 2020, and also advocate for policies that would put an end to the practice.

In the meantime, I haven’t given up my beloved Ben & Jerry’s. Indeed, just last week I picked up a pint (Phish Food, if you have to know). But this time, I did something highly unusual: I ate only half.

Ben Hewitt lives with his family in northern Vermont, where he operates a diversified livestock and vegetable farm, and writes about the environment, food, and rural living for a number of periodicals. He is the author of five books, including The Town That Food Saved and Homegrown. Hewitt blogs at www.benhewitt.net

This article was republished from Ensia.

See also:
Scary Dairy: You Scream, I Scream… Monsanto Roundup Ice Cream
FDA Stops Testing For Glyphosate As New Report Finds High Levels Are Found In Food

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

August 14, 2018

Early morning moods may be somewhat subdued. The Libra Moon is at odds with dour Saturn. Life can feel like an unending series of chores and tests but there’s no escaping pressing needs. Do what must be done. As midday nears moods are on an upswing…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

August 2018

A fantastic shopping and educational experience for the whole family! Vendors come from New England, across the US, and many foreign countries to exhibit minerals, fossils, gemstones, jewelry,...

Cost: $8 adults, under 13 free

Where:
Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Ave.
West Springfield, MA  01089
View map »


Sponsor: LLD Productions, Inc.
Telephone: 505-867-0425
Contact Name: Regina Aumente
Website »

More information

Readings, healings, vendors, presentations.

Cost: Free

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn
85 Glastonbury Blvd.
South Glastonbury, CT  06066
View map »


Website »

More information

During the weekend of August 10-12, 2018 we will gather again at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts for the 44th Annual NOFA SC. This immersive annual gathering is an opportunity to come...

Cost: See website

Where:
Hampshire College
Amherst, MA


Sponsor: Northeast Organic Farming Association
Telephone: 774-262-7986
Contact Name: Marjorie Bailey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

August 13 - 17, 9am - 1pm Instructor: Peyton Pugmire For student entering grades 6-8 iPhones are amazing, but you know what’s even more amazing? You! During this imaginative week...

Cost: $250

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Website »

More information

August 13 - 16 Juan Li has been teaching Daoist energy practices for the last 27 years. He has created a sequence of practices based on the I Ching, adapted to the emotional and mental...

Cost: $950 single retreat; $1650 for both retreats (8/16)

Where:
Angels’ Rest Retreat
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: Tao Retreats
Telephone: 212-243-6771
Contact Name: Sharon Smith
Website »

More information

August 13 - 14 This fun and exciting healing workshop guarantees you valuable knowledge and powerful skills to keep you in a higher vibration of energy and flowing with infinite intelligence and...

Where:
Royal Plaza Best Western
Marlborough, MA


Sponsor: Geozuwa
Telephone: 646-606-9935
Website »

More information

August 13 - 21 With NLP training and master healer certification. This course is specifically designed for healers of every modality. For information call (646) 606-9935 or visit...

Where:
Marlboro, MA


Telephone: 646-606-9935
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

August 14 - 24 For millennia people have entered the wilderness to encounter Spirit and seek their direction, purpose, or medicine. If you are seeking guidance and renewal, or you’re...

Cost: $1295

Where:
Somerset Lake
P.O. Box 48
Putney, VT  05346
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Air and Stone
Telephone: 802-387-6624
Contact Name: Sparrow Hart
Website »

More information

What better way to end a busy day than with a little bliss. We'll support your body right where it is today and help you to open your spine to find more movement and flexibility. Begin and end...

Cost: $18

Where:
Body Love Wellness Center
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Yoga is an ancient behavioral practice that allows for the development and enhancement of mind-body skills and behavioral factors including physical functioning, self-regulation of internal...

Cost: Free

Where:
CIC Cambridge
One Broadway
Charles Conference Room, 14th Floor
Cambridge, MA  02142
View map »


Sponsor: CIC Wellness
Telephone: 617-953-0674
Contact Name: Shakti Rowan
Website »

More information

Barbara Macias will present an information workshop on the benefits of essential oils. A demonstration of the oils will be included. Please RSVP at katboston@comcast.net

Cost: Free

Where:
NBA Business Center
145 Washington Street
Route 53
Norwell, MA  02061
View map »


Sponsor: Mind Balance Hypnosis
Telephone: 339-788-1193
Contact Name: Kathryn Caruso

More information

Relax and restore this summer with free outdoor yoga classes on historic Rogers Field! We’re packing the lawn with yogis of all levels for yoga led by experienced practitioners from Dragonfly...

Cost: Free

Where:
Rogers Field
Devens, MA


Sponsor: Dragonfly Wellness Center
Telephone: 978-487-7181
Contact Name: Anne Ferguson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

August 16 - 19 Magnetic-harmonic vibrational therapist, Jay Emmanuel, A.K., N.S.,V.M. shares powerful energy techniques that use the forces of sounds produced by the human voice in combination...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

August 16 - 19 Juan Li has been teaching Daoist energy practices for the last 27 years. He has created a sequence of practices based on the I Ching, adapted to the emotional and mental...

Cost: $950 single retreat; $1650 for both retreats (8/13)

Where:
Angels’ Rest Retreat
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: Tao Retreats
Telephone: 212-243-6771
Contact Name: Sharon Smith
Website »

More information

Daily practice for peace, healing, Christ mindedness, meditation, awakening.

Where:
Milton, MA


Telephone: 617-696-5685
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

With June Edward, “The Massachusette Medium” This is a mediumship gallery with June Edward, the “Massachusetts Medium!” Have you ever wanted to talk to someone on the...

Cost: $55 on Eventbrite, $60 at door

Where:
Plymouth Lodge AF & AM
116 S Meadow Rd
Plymouth, MA  02360
View map »


Sponsor: June Edward “The Massachusetts Medium”
Telephone: 508-259-1231
Contact Name: June Edward
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Guide: Peyton Pugmire Ages 16+ Like meditating with a paintbrush! Escape your stress and routine and re-connect with yourself, your heart and soul - one brushstroke at a time. This fun...

Cost: $85 (includes cost of all supplies)

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags