Food

Questions and Answers on Glyphosate

Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide that can kill certain weeds and grasses. Glyphosate works by blocking an enzyme essential for plant growth. The product is used primarily in agriculture, but also in forestry and lawn and garden care.

What's the FDA's role in regulating glyphosate and pesticides in general?

Certain trace amounts of pesticides, or pesticide chemical residues, may remain in or on some crops after they’re harvested. The FDA’s role is to ensure that pesticide chemical residues on or in domestic and imported foods do not exceed the limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in regulating pesticides in general and glyphosate in particular?

EPA evaluates pesticides to ensure that they are safe for human health and the environment when used according to label directions. EPA is responsible for issuing regulations establishing, modifying, suspending, or revoking tolerances, which are limits on the amount of a pesticide chemical residue a food can contain. Tolerances are set at levels that provide a reasonable certainty of no harm. For more information, see EPA’s regulation of glyphosate.

Has the EPA established tolerances for safe use of glyphosate?

EPA has established tolerances for glyphosate on a wide range of crops, including corn, soybean, oil seeds, grains, and some fruits and vegetables, ranging from 0.1 to 310 ppm.

Are there any safety concerns about exposure to glyphosate?

The EPA evaluates the safety of pesticides such as glyphosate. According to EPA, glyphosate has a low toxicity for people. Pets may be at risk of digestive or intestinal problems if they touch or eat plants that have just been sprayed. Glyphosate is currently undergoing a routine registration review at EPA, but EPA stated in 2015 that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic in humans.

One international organization (the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded that glyphosate may be a carcinogen, while several others, including the European Food Safety Authority, and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), another subdivision of the WHO, have determined that it is unlikely to be a carcinogen.

What is the FDA doing to monitor glyphosate residues in or on food?

Recently, the FDA developed a streamlined selective method for testing for glyphosate residues, and from 2016-2017, the FDA began preliminary testing of samples of soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs for glyphosate residues. The FDA completed preliminary testing of these four commodities in FY 2017, and expanded testing to other foods in FY 2018.

Why did the FDA focus on developing a specific method to test for glyphosate?

The FDA is always looking for ways to expand its monitoring capabilities to fulfill its obligation to ensure that pesticide residues on or in domestic and imported foods do not exceed EPA tolerances.

Why didn’t the FDA test for glyphosate before now?

In order to make the most efficient and effective use of limited resources, most FDA pesticide-testing protocols use multi-residue methods that can detect hundreds of pesticides in a single analysis. Due to the chemical nature of glyphosate, the FDA’s multi-residue methods did not work for glyphosate. Instead, the agency invested considerable resources to develop and validate a specifically tailored method to detect glyphosate and its degradation products.

What have the results been so far?

Preliminary results for glyphosate testing showed no pesticide residue violations for glyphosate in all four commodities tested (soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs).

How will the FDA release the results of further testing?

The FDA plans to include results for glyphosate testing in future reports, such as our annual report of the Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program.

Page Last Updated: 11/06/2017
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