Unless you’ve been hiding underneath a gluten free, Himalayan pink rock for the past couple of years the names Monsanto and Roundup will no doubt conger images of men in white hazmat suits spraying evil, DNA altering chemicals over the frankenfoods destined for our dinner plates. Of course any diligent person would endeavour to be informed of the processes involved with the allocation, frequency and residual concentrations of the pesticides and herbicides that are used in the production of our food, however with the ever present abundance of pseudoscience and money-driven fear mongering surrounding us *cough (Foodbabe) cough* it is sometimes difficult to acquire valid, fact based information.
Glyphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide that was discovered by the chemist John. E. Franz in 1970 and was brought to the market by Monsanto in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. After the last commercially relevant patent expired in 2000 it quickly became the most popular herbicide in the US agricultural sector and second most used herbicide in the home and garden, industry, government and commerce sectors.
Due to its prevalence in our food production and with certain “environmental” groups accusing Glyphosate residue on food for everything from Autism, Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression and even Celiac Disease/gluten intolerance – in fish – It is this particular herbicide that I have chosen to offer a little perspective on.
As I type the World Health Organisation just released findings that “Glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through diet” however for the time being it still formally remains a Group 2A “probable carcinogen” according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) along with bitumen, red meat and household wood fires. In contrast, Acetaldehyde is a by-product of ethanol – the alcohol that is present in every single beer, wine, bourbon or cosmopolitan enjoyed throughout the world. Acetaldehyde however is classed as a Group 1 “known carcinogen” along with asbestos, UV light (sunlight) and processed meats, with Australians consuming an average of 12.5 litres of pure alcohol (10g = one standard drink) throughout 2015.
The single most important rule when discussing chemical poisoning is simply “the dose makes the poison”. Drink enough water and it will kill you, while just a few milligrams of arsenic will do the same job, with the two determining factors boiling down to the potency of the chemical and length of exposure.
In Australia, Average Daily Intake (ADIs) for pesticides are established by the Office of Chemical Safety within the Department of Health. The current ADI for glyphosate is 0.3 mg/kg by weight per day, meaning that a person weighing 85kg can safely consume up to 25.5mg of Glyphosate daily, while the Australian Department of Health recommends no more than four standard drinks per day (ADI of 40g) of ethanol.
Soil sampling was conducted at a number of sites in the USA and Canada to determine the residual concentrations of glyphosate remaining after a complete growing cycle of Maize 98140 – one of the most popular genetically modified crops. Results discovered that the average human would have to consume approximately 5,500 Ton of farm soil to accrue the same quantity of glyphosate (Group 2A probable carcinogen) as the volume of acetaldehyde (Group 1 known carcinogen) in one standard drink. Even when we account for differences in relative toxicity – glyphosate being roughly 1600 times more toxic than acetaldehyde – we would still have to load up our plates with four kilograms of farm soil, the equivalent weight of two standard house bricks, a medium sized bowling ball or a well fed cat to equal the toxicity of a schooner of beer or glass of wine.
So the next time your kale infused, fluoride dodging, organically certified friend begins marching against Monsanto while working their way through a bottle of shiraz or grabbing a six pack for the road, kindly explain that they should pull their head out of the dirt and pay attention to the science. Or alternatively tell them to swallow a few mouthfuls while they’re down there.