By Anne Sewell
Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) commissioned a series of urine tests on people in 18 countries across Europe. The results were released on Thursday and FoE is asking, “Why is there weed killer in our bodies?”
The findings from these tests raise serious concerns about the increasing levels of exposure to glyphosate-based weed killers, which are commonly used by farmers, public authorities and gardeners across Europe. What is worrying is that should more genetically modified (GM) crops be grown in Europe, the use of glyphosate is predicted to rise even further. According to FoE, despite the widespread use of the weed killer, there is little monitoring of glyphosate at present in food, water or the wider environment.
The FoE test is the first of its kind in Europe to test for the presence of the weed killer in human bodies. Spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Europe, Adrian Bebb said on their website: “Most people will be worried to discover they may have weed killer in their bodies. We tested people living in cities in 18 countries and found traces in every country. These results suggest we are being exposed to glyphosate in our everyday lives, yet we don’t know where it is coming from, how widespread it is in the environment, or what it is doing to our health.
“Our testing highlights a serious lack of action by public authorities across Europe and indicates that this weed killer is being widely overused. Governments need to step-up their monitoring and bring in urgent measures to reduce its use. This includes rejecting any genetically modified crops that would increase the use of glyphosate.”
The group is calling on the EU to urgently investigate how glyphosate is finding its way into people’s bodies. They are demanding that there is an increase in the levels of monitoring in the environment, food and water. They also demand immediate restrictions on the use of glyphosate across Europe.
The laboratory tests were run between March and May 2013 on urine samples from volunteers in 18 countries across the European Union. On average, 44% of the samples contained glyphosate. The proportion of glyphosate found in the samples varied between countries, with Malta, Germany, the UK and Poland having the most positive tests, and lower levels detected in Macedonia and Switzerland.
The volunteers who were tested and provided samples all live in cities. None of them had handled or used glyphosate products in the run-up to the tests. Monsanto is the largest producer of glyphosate, and the corporation sells it under the brand name “Roundup.”
The product is used on many genetically modified crops. At present, there are 14 new GM crops, designed for cultivation with glyphosate, awaiting approval to be grown in Europe. Should these additional crops be approved, this would inevitably lead to a further increase of glyphosate spraying in the EU.
The full results of ‘Determination of Glyphosate residues in human urine samples from 18 European countries’ by Medical Laboratory Bremen are available online.
Urine samples were collected from volunteers in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and the UK. A total of 80/182 samples tested were found to contain glyphosate. Volunteers were all city-dwellers and included vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. No two samples were tested from the same household. The samples were analysed by Dr Hoppe at Medical Laboratory Bremen in Germany.”
However, according to Farmers Weekly magazine, UK scientists who reviewed the study said its findings were “unreliable.” The magazine quoted Alison Haughton, head of the pollination ecology group at Rothamsted Research, as saying: “This is not good science – I cannot find where the methodology and results are published [note they are published here], and so it is impossible to assess the robustness of the work.”
“If FoE and GM Freeze want their work to have scientific credibility, and provide a genuine contribution to the debate on pesticide residues, then they should submit their work for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” “As it stands, this press release is completely insubstantial, it is not scientific, and cannot be taken seriously by anyone.”
And apparently Monsanto insists that glyphosate “does not pose any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment”. “It is not surprising to find glyphosate in urine should a person ingest food with low residues of glyphosate. Glyphosate is not metabolized by the human body but excreted into the urine and faeces. This is a well-known aspect of glyphosate that contributes to its comprehensive safety assessment,” Monsanto’s spokesperson told the magazine. “We always take any allegation seriously and would like to know more,” he added.