The Ecologist
by Nicole Sagener |

Fuessen, Germany
Source: Moyan Brenn

A new study shows that 99.6% of Germans are contaminated with the herbicide glyphosate, writes Nicole Sagener. The news comes as the EU puts off a crucial decision on whether to re-authorise the chemical, described by IARC as ‘probably carcinogenic’, until 2031.

All but 0.4% of the German population have been contaminated by the controversial herbicide glyphosate, according to a study carried out by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The study analysed glyphosate residue in urine and concludes that 75% of the target group displayed levels that were five times higher than the legal limit of drinking water.

A third of the population even showed levels that were between ten and 42 times higher than what is normally permissible.

Glyphosate residues were recorded in 99.6% of the 2,009 people monitored by the study. The most significant values were found in children aged from zero to nine and adolescents aged 10 to 19, particularly those individuals raised on farms.

Meat eaters also displayed higher levels of glyphosate contamination than vegetarians or vegans. This finding may reflect the high levels of glyphosate found in the ‘Roundup-ready’ GMO soy and corn used in animal feeds, which are sprayed with the herbicide many times over their growing season.

“The investigation confirmed the findings of the Federal Environment Agency, in regards to the majority of the population having glyphosate residue in their urine”, said retired veterinarian Monika Krüger, who supervised the study. The investigation was the largest of its kind ever carried out.

Krüger emphasised that these results show that further studies have to be carried out in order to fully understand the link between exposure to glyphosate and disease and other health problems.

EU still to decide on glyphosate re-authorisation to 2031

Harald Ebner, a genetic engineering and bio-economic policy with the German Greens, warned that “now nearly every single one of us has been contaminated by plant poison, it is clear to me that no new authorisations for 2031 should be issued.”

The European Commission recently called for glyphosate to be renewed until 2031, but it emerged today that the decision has been postponed by member state representatives, as reported today on The Ecologist.

France, Sweden, Netherlands and Italy have announced that they would be voting against the relicensing. Brussels, Bulgaria, Denmark, Austria, Belgium are also rumoured to be opposing license renewal. One and a half million people have signed Avaaz’s petition urging the EU not to relicense the herbicide.

The German government position has not been confirmed however the result of the new study can only add to pressure to oppose the relicensing. Ebner today called upon both the agriculture minister, Christian Schmidt, and the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, to oppose the Commission.

Another excellent reason to postpone the decision is that scientific analysis is still ongoing, with studies by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and a joint undertaking by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) still pending.

German regulators split

The President of Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Maria Krautzberger, said she was was “not surprised” by the study’s findings, pointing out that her own agency had recorded similar findings in its own smaller-scale investigation. The presence of glyphosate in urine is unsurprising given the extensive use that has been made of the compound.

The UBA called for further research to be undertaken, as “probably carcinogenic” substances should not be authorised as ‘pesticides’ by EU law.

On the other hand, the Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR) saw no health risk in the study’s findings. The authority admitted that glyphosate residue in low concentrations should be expected, however, it maintained that the compound is quickly excreted in the urine and, as a result, poses no risk.

Indeed the BfR study formed the foundation of the EFSA study which concluded that there was ‘no evidence’ that glyphosate was carcinogenic – the precise opposite to the more scientifically rigorous study of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation.

Now more evidence will come piling in – to Monsanto’s dismay

The decision on glyphosate may come before the EU’s Council of Ministers once again in six weeks time, uncomfortably close – for the pesticides industry – to the expiry of the current license in June.

However as more evidence from current research that’s under way becomes available, it may become ever harder to force through the quick affirmative decision the industry has been lobbying for.

For example the Commission has announced that it will publish criteria for the classification of ‘endocrine disruptors’, chemicals which mimic hormones, this summer, after years of inaction.

As Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told the French press in Paris on 3rd March following a meeting with France’s Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal: “I confirmed to the Minister Ségolène Royal that the Commission intends, by this summer, to present a list of criteria defining hormone disruptors, based on the one used by the World Health Organisation (WHO).”

France supports the WHO’s classification system, which divides hormone disruptors into three categories: proven, probable and possible. “I appreciate the Commission’s willingness to accelerate its action on hormone disruptors and to present its conclusions by this summer.”

With glyphosate widely recognised as an endocrine disruptor that’s active at very low concentrations approaching the limits of detectability, the Commission’s progress in the area may once again delay a final decision on the herbicide pending further stuidies.

The Commission is also coming under pressure to ensure that all studies it relies on in its assessments of pesticides are published in full so they may be independently assessed and verified. The EFSA / BfR glyphosate studies relied heavily on unpublished, non-peer reviewed industry-funded studies.

Nicole Sagener is a journalist with

This article was originally published by following translation by Samuel Morgan. This version includes additional reporting by The Ecologist.

Stay Engaged

Sign up for The Cornucopia Institute’s eNews and action alerts to stay informed about organic food and farm issues.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.