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USDA Declares Pesticides Safe in Conventionally Grown Produce

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The USDA just released an assessment of conventionally-grown produce, declaring that the product has no pesticide/herbicide-related side effects. Does this mean conventional produce is healthy, or is there more to the story? Read on to find out!

A 2014 examination of nearly 10,000 types of agricultural produce from the USDA has found that nearly all pesticides used in conventional produce falls within safe levels.

According to the USDA analysis, over 40 percent of the produce had no detectable pesticide levels at all. 99 percent of the products tested had pesticide levels in what the USDA declares as safe, and only 23 of the products tested had pesticide levels beyond what the USDA believes is safe.

So, with this new information, does it mean that we can relax and eat any conventionally-grown produce?

Unfortunately, no. Like many food tests, this most recent test only tells part of the story. Like many other studies (such as a recent study on the effects of diet soda), there is more to the story than what the final results declare. Read more about what this study does and doesn’t prove below.

What the USDA Food Safety Study Examined

While the USDA pesticide study did examine many commonly-used pesticides, it did not test for all common pesticides. Of most important note, this study did not measure levels of glyphosate in foods, which is strange, since glyphosate is one of the most prevalent pesticides used in the United States today.

The safety of glyphosate has been called into question many times but is still regarded in the United States as a safe chemical for pesticide use. However, in other countries, there is a different story. Denmark, The Netherlands, Brazil, France, and El Salvador have all banned the use of partial or complete glyphosate use.

The fact that this pesticide residue study did not examine one of the most commonly-used pesticides sounds rather shady. The USDA said in a statement that it did not include glyphosate testing because the tests were “extremely expensive... to do regularly." In addition to omitting one of the most common pesticides, the USDA also found traces of pesticides for which there is no established tolerance level in 301 of the items tested.

Is Glyphosate Actually Safe?

There is a lot of conflicting information about the safety of glyphosate and the other ingredients in Roundup and similar pesticides and herbicides.

A recent study published in the journal Toxicology in 2013 found that there are several harmful ingredients in Roundup-style herbicides that have damaging effects on the human body. The most severely damaging ingredient was POE-15, which is not always listed on the label of herbicide and pesticide products. According to this new study, the reason why glyphosate gets a pass in so many safety studies is due to how the testing is performed. In most tests, glyphosate is tested alone.

However, the study stated that in many final formulations, glyphosate is packaged with additional chemicals that can alter the effects it has on the body. The study authors found that formulated versions of glyphosate can affect all living cells. Doses of formulated glyphosate-containing POE-15 were found to have adverse effects with as little as 1ppm on cell respiration and membrane integrity.

The EPA allows glyphosate levels only to 0.7ppm in drinking water but allows far greater amounts is pesticide and herbicide use. In fact, in 2013, the EPA actually increased the amount of allowable glyphosate in herbicide products. Now, hay and feed crops can contain up to 100ppm, oilseed products up to 40ppm, and other produce products can contain up to 0.5 ppm.

Studies Questioning the Safety of Glyphosate

Numerous recent studies have called into question the safety of glyphosate and other herbicide/pesticide products for humans. Many animal studies have shown adverse effects at even small levels, but few long-term studies have been conducted on either animals or humans.

In a 2013 article published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, study researchers examined the possible link between glyphosate and breast cancer cell growth. The study authors found that pure glyphosate acted as an endocrine disruptor and caused hormone-dependant breast cancer cells to grow. The study authors concluded, “These results indicated that low and environmentally relevant concentrations of glyphosate possessed estrogenic activity.” The study authors also noted that soybean oil was a particular culprit for this kind of endocrine damage.

Another 2013 study published in the journal Entropy, found that glyphosate has a damaging effect on the beneficial bacteria levels in the body. According to these researchers, glyphosate inhibits the enzyme cytochrome P450, which detoxify xenobiotics. Basically, these enzymes work with beneficial bacteria to find the accumulation of toxic materials inside the body. The presence of glyphosate prevents the removal of the toxins, leading to a host of problems.

The study authors found that the presence of glyphosate leads to chronic inflammation, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, depression, infertility, cancer, Autism and ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s disease. The study authors stated that glyphosate had an “insidious” effect on the body and that the problems were difficult to track because they manifest slowly over time.

Other Worrying Studies on Pesticides and Herbicides

Another study from 2013 published in Scientific American, found that pesticides (particularly benomyl) had a devastating effect on dopamine levels in the brain. The pesticide also decreased ALDH levels, which led to the toxic accumulation of DOPAL. These three attacks can lead to brain damage and even lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Although the U.S. banned the use of benomyl in 2001, it still lingers in the environment. This also indicates that other pesticides may be equally damaging to the brain.

A 2013 study published in PLOS One found that a colony of bees collapsed from what the researchers believe was an overdose of pesticides. The bees had detectable levels of 35 types of pesticide, some of which were in lethal doses. According to the study authors, the pesticides not only killed the bees but also weakened the bees’ immune systems.

“What’s surprising is that it seems to weaken the bee’s ability to fight off infection,” the study authors stated. The researchers found that the pesticides that did the most damage to the bees were chlorothalonil, pyraclostrobin, 2,4 dimethyl phenyl formamide, neonicotinoids, and fluvalinate. Neonicotinoids are banned in Europe because they are suspected to cause bee colony collapse.

The EPA Agrees with These Studies

Studies cited by the EPA also show an increased risk for damaging health effects in hundreds of animal, soil, and water tests. The EPA even classifies 60 percent of herbicides, 30 percent of pesticides, and 90 percent of fungicides as carcinogenic. Numerous EPA tests show that as little as 5ppm of technical grade glyphosate had adverse effects on fish and other wildlife.

So, why does the EPA continue to allow the dangerous chemicals in our food supply? There isn’t much reason for it, other than political reasons. Pesticides and herbicides are a huge industry and limiting their use would make food harder to grow.

In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Organic Systems, researchers examined U.S. government databases for side effects to GE crops and the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. The study authors found that these crops were linked to an increase in the use of these problems and the following health problems:

Potential Side Effects for Food Additives


  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Mental illness
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Reduced immune system
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Sluggish thyroid
  • Weight gain
  • Intestinal problems and diseases
  • Cancer
  • Kidney problems


According to the study authors, “The significance and strength of the correlations show that the effects of glyphosate and GE crops on human health should be further investigated."

Safe Pesticides: There is More to the Story

Although the USDA claims that few foods contain unsafe pesticide levels, the fact that they do not test for some of the commonly-used pesticides and herbicides, the fact that even the EPA declares that pesticides have unsafe side effects, the fact that most safety studies have been conducted in short-term studies, and the fact that numerous third-party studies have found dangerous side effects in pesticides indicates that it is unlikely that the current level of pesticides in foods is actually safe. These pesticides have damaging effects on the endocrine system, mental health, and memory, and may even cause cancer. For these reasons, it is important to avoid pesticides as part of a complete healthy diet. However, it is still better to eat a conventionally-grown vegetable than eat processed junk food.





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