Glyphosate: Overview and Regulatory Compliance
Glyphosate, known by its commercial name, RoundUp, is a non-selective herbicide used for controlling multiple species of weeds. Its utilization in the agricultural industry is vast, and its current use is in grains, cereals, fruits, vegetables, sugar, etc. Usage came into commercial agriculture back in 1974 and has since made a headwind across the world. It has become the most used broad-spectrum herbicide globally because of its effectiveness at controlling a wide range of weeds and grasses. Its increased use in food production has also led to an increase in public and media attention on the safety of glyphosate residues in food.
Glyphosate’s popularity stems from both a financial and quality component. When used following the label and GAP (Good Agricultural Practices), glyphosate is an excellent herbicide that can help facilitate better crop yields and quality by controlling unwanted weeds that compete for nutrients. It must be carefully applied when used in producing fruits and vegetables because direct contact with the herbicide can often cause burns and other damage to the crops. For this reason, glyphosate residues are unlikely to be present on fruits and vegetables (berries, grapes, leafy greens, tree fruit, etc.) In other instances, it may be applied directly to the crop as a pre-harvest desiccant on commodities dried after harvest (grains, oats, cereals, beans, etc.).
Crops that are dried do not lose value from glyphosate damage; consequently, residues are more likely to be present on these types of commodities as opposed to fresh fruits and vegetables. Its popularity has increased public scrutiny on the safety of glyphosate in food and consequently increased regulatory surveillance and enforcement of glyphosate to ensure MRL (maximum residue limits) and Organic compliance. The cause for concern came after regulatory assessments found differing data about the threshold of danger the compound warranted to humans. According to Jose V. Tarazona (Head of the Pesticides Unit at the European Food Safety Authority), third parties tested the combination and provided research that considered the substance possibly carcinogenic. However, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has found little to no correlation between material and human health issues. Regulatory agencies use toxicological assessments combined with other key factors to develop MRLs for glyphosate, ensuring consumer safety.
Glyphosate: Maximum Residue Limits
Despite their differing views on toxicological research, both the U.S., Europe, and many other countries allow glyphosate residues to be present within their respective MRLs for various conventional agricultural commodities. The issue for food companies is that these differences in research and other factors have resulted in an increasingly complicated regulatory landscape depending on which country they are commercializing the product. For example, the U.S. MRL for glyphosate on chickpeas is 8 ppm, its respective MRL in E.U. is 0.1 ppm, and Japan is 0.2 ppm (sourced from bryantchristie.com). The difference in regulatory limits illustrates the need for glyphosate testing when importing/exporting conventional products to different countries. It is also equally, if not more important, to test Certified Organic products to ensure no glyphosate or other non-approved pesticides are present.
Certified Organic food products are not permitted to have any glyphosate residues on the finished product in any country. The use of glyphosate in the production of certified organic foods is also not allowed in any country. Many companies believe that by banning glyphosate in organic production, there is no risk of its subsequent residue being present on the finished product. Often this is the case, but there are many instances when glyphosate can be present on organic products from diverse types of cross-contamination such as drift, contaminated water, equipment, food contact surfaces, and other routes. Since there are no allowable amounts of glyphosate on organic products, there is no buffer. Any glyphosate concentration is enough to cause a product not to be marketable as organic. With increased public awareness and regulatory pressure, the need for glyphosate testing to verify organic compliance is becoming increasingly important to protect brand integrity and prevent financial losses.
Glyphosate: Regulatory Update
In 2017, AGQ Labs USA wrote an article surrounding glyphosate and the European Commission’s extended permission for its use. In the gap of 4 years, new decisions and research has accumulated, showing the possible ramifications of the compound.
The EPA has not moved its stance on categorizing the herbicide as a non-risk in regards to human health. Their statement has come with the caveat that it will not harm humans if used according to the label.
Despite that, countries are continuing to take precautionary measures by phasing out or banning its use. The European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union) has glyphosate approved in the E.U. until 15 December 2022. Big players in the agricultural game, such as Mexico, Germany, and France, have indoctrinated a chemical phase-out (with an end range of 2021-2025). Their support of banning its use for other practices (i.e., organic) sends a message.
From the evidence presented in recent years, it would appear that the debate will continue until both independent research institutions and governmental research organizations reach similar enough results. Until then, food manufacturers should continue to test for the compound and regulate their crops in line with U.S. and foreign market MRLs (maximum residue limits).
What is there to do?
Testing for glyphosate is the most efficient way to verify MRL and Organic compliance, mitigating the risk of having the product rejected and possible negative media attention. AGQ Labs offers fast and reliable glyphosate analysis in a wide range of foods and beverages. AGQ also provides timely support to help our clients determine compliance in an increasingly complex regulatory landscape. The technique utilized is Liquid Chromatography Tandem-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS-MS), which is the gold standard used for this analysis by regulatory bodies worldwide.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to test your crops, food, supplements, or water for glyphosate.