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 about the safety and use of glyphosate, see EPA’s website Glyphosate - Ingredients Used in Pesticide Products.

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. In December 2017, the EPA issued a Draft Risk Assessments for Glyphosate concluding that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic in humans.

One international organization (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) 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), 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 residue method (SRM) for testing for glyphosate residues, and from FY 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. Test results from FY 2016 are published in the FY 2016 Annual Pesticide Report and results from FY 2017 will be published in the FY 2017 Annual Pesticide Report.

Why didn’t the FDA test for glyphosate in the past?

The FDA is continuously expanding its monitoring capabilities to fulfill its obligation to ensure that pesticide residues on or in domestic and imported foods do not exceed EPA tolerances. In order to make the most efficient and effective use of limited resources, most FDA pesticide-testing protocols use multi-residue methods (MRMs) that can detect hundreds of pesticides in a single analysis. However, due to the chemical nature of glyphosate, the FDA’s MRMs did not work for glyphosate. Therefore, the agency needed to invest considerable time and resources to develop and validate a specifically tailored SRM to detect glyphosate and its degradation products.

How did the FDA develop a specific method to test for glyphosate?

FDA scientists evaluated various methods to identify one that would work well in FDA laboratories. They used this information to develop a new selective residue method (SRM) specifically designed for the analysis of glyphosate as well as glufosinate residues in food, incorporating the most advanced instrumentation and technology to achieve maximum sensitivity and efficiency in food analyses. After the method was developed, the FDA validated the new procedure using a variety of food types. Results from the validation of the glyphosate method demonstrated its effectiveness to measure glyphosate residue levels in food. Upon successful completion of the validation, the FDA began using the new glyphosate SRM to analyze regulatory samples of corn, soybeans, milk and eggs in FY 2016.  

What have the results been so far?

Results for FY 2016 assignment samples for glyphosate and glufosinate testing showed no pesticide residue violations for glyphosate in all four commodities tested (corn, soybeans, milk, and eggs).

Of the 760 corn, soybean, milk, and egg assignment samples tested for glyphosate and glufosinate, 53% had no detectable residues of the pesticides. Further, none of the milk and egg samples had any detectable glyphosate or glufosinate residues, and all the corn and soybean samples that tested positive for the pesticides were below the tolerance levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This assignment was completed in FY17; thus, additional results will be available in the FY 2017 annual pesticide report.

How will the FDA release the results of further testing?

The FDA plans to include results for glyphosate testing in future reports (see Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Reports and Data).

Page Last Updated: 11/09/2018
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