The weed-killing agro-chemical, glyphosate, has been found in over 99 per cent of samples collected in a study of 6,848 individuals in France, according to a scientific research paper published last week. The substance is widely used in India as well.
Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weedkiller has been found in over 99 per cent of samples of a study involving urine samples from 6,848 individuals in France.
Individuals participating in the study, published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, came from 83 municipalities in France.
The volunteers were recruited through the “Glyphosate Campaign” association that has also launched a legal campaign against the weedkiller classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The samples, taken between June 2018 and January 2020, were analysed by a third-party laboratory in Germany, said the study titled ‘Quantifiable urine glyphosate levels detected in 99% of the French population, with higher values in men, in younger people, and in farmers’.
The study says that glyphosate was detected in 99.8 per cent of 6,795 exploitable samples, at “an average level of 1.19 µg/L (ppb)”.
Levels of the chemical were found to be higher in men and children. The levels were also higher in samples collected from people who regularly consumed tap or spring water. Ditto for smokers and consumers of beer or juice.
Significantly, the detection of glyphosate from samples collected from people professed to eat “more than 85 per cent organic food” was lower.
Beyond acceptable limits
The glyphosate maximum residue limit for drinking water in France is 0.1 ng/ml. The maximum residue limit in solid food is higher and reaches 20 mg per kilo for cereals like oats and barley whereas it is 10 mg per kilo in wheat, lentils peas and canola seeds and 2 mg per kilo in beans peas.
In France, glyphosate has been found in 53 per cent of food samples, including 87.5 per cent of breakfast cereals. Previous studies have also found glyphosate in 100 per cent of infant cereal samples.
Similarly, a study carried out in Switzerland on foods purchased in supermarkets found the highest levels of glyphosate in cereals and in pasta. Glyphosate was also detected in beverages. Six out of 14 beers in Germany tested positive for glyphosate and all wines and fruit juices tested in Switzerland were found to contain glyphosate.
Over 5,800 individual legal complaints
According to the researchers, the samples taken in spring and summer (the season for glyphosate and other herbicide spraying) showed “significantly higher levels” of the substance. Samples collected from farmers, especially those “working in a wine-growing environment”, too had “significantly higher” levels.
However, the authors have also stressed the limitations of the study. They disclose that their sample group was not fully representative of the general population, was older, with more female participation and undoubtedly over-representing “citizens aware of the issues of pesticides and a healthy lifestyle”.
The authors added that the size of the sample participating in the study makes the analysis relevant. Denis Lairon, director of research emeritus at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, says that the “results confirm almost all other international studies.”
The campaign accompanying the research is accompanied by over 5,800 individual legal complaints by the participants on the basis of the positive results from the testing of their samples.
Entrenched in the market
Interestingly, French President Emmanuel Macron had committed in November 2017 for a total ban on glyphosate “at the latest in three years”. Last week, however, he admitted to having failed on the pledge. He said that it was due to a “collective” failure by other EU countries.
A 2020 report on the use of glyphosate in India, based on a study by the UK-based pesticide action network said that about 77 per cent of farmers surveyed for the study used glyphosate to control weeds. Glyphosate does not figure among the substances monitored in food by government laboratories in India. Campaigners have often questioned the legality of glyphosate in India.
The US environmental protection agency too, in a draft biological evaluation, has said that glyphosate is likely to cause harm to or kill 93 per cent of endangered species in America.