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Not in our bread

Campaigning to rid wheat of toxic chemicals

Campaigning to rid wheat of toxic chemicals

With tests showing that nearly a third of the UK’s bread can contain weed killer, Soil Association campaigner Natasha Collins-Daniel explains why the charity is calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate.

Spraying a probable carcinogen on food crops to kill them so they can be harvested faster – it sounds ridiculous – but it’s happening all across the UK on the wheat that makes our bread, flour and other things like biscuits.

It gets worse. The weed killer in question, glyphosate, was recently classified by the World Health Organisation’s IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) as a probable carcinogen for humans – and new data analysis shows it’s appearing more and more frequently in our bread. It’s the world’s most widely sold weed killer – you might know it as the active ingredient in Roundup – used in farming, in public places like parks, streets and schools and also by people in their back gardens.

Soil Association campaigner Natasha Collins-Daniel

Soil Association campaigner Natasha Collins-Daniel

“A recent European study on city dwellers found that in the UK, seven out of ten people had traces of glyphosate in their urine.”

Natasha Collins-Daniel, Soil Association campaigner

Figures analysed by the Soil Association from government data show glyphosate-use in UK farming has increased by 400% in the last 20 years, and it’s one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread – appearing in up to around 30% of samples tested by the Defra committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF). Meanwhile, a recent European study on city dwellers found that in the UK, seven out of ten people had traces of glyphosate in their urine.

Kneading doughThe food industry claims the level of glyphosate in food poses no danger to the British public But the WHO findings and the chemical cocktail often found in bread sold in the UK call this into serious question.

Unlike other reviews, IARC panel looked at what farmers are actually using. Farmers never use glyphosate alone – they use a mixture like Roundup because other chemicals are needed to do things like make the weed killer stick to the crop. Products like Roundup are sprayed on UK wheat as a pre-harvest weed killer and to kill any parts of the crop that haven’t ripened evenly so combine harvesters can move more quickly and cover more ground during harvest.

“Farmers could easily and responsibly choose not to use glyphosate as a pre-harvest spray on wheat crops.”

Natasha Collins-Daniel, Soil Association campaigner

Roundup may be 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate itself. The research the IARC looked at will have included data on the impact of commercially available glyphosate products herbicides, like Roundup, to determine that it is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. The pesticide regulators in Europe and elsewhere only look at scientific data about glyphosate on its own.

Unless people are eating organic food exclusively, it’s almost impossible for them to avoid ingesting this potentially dangerous chemical. However, farmers could easily and responsibly choose not to use glyphosate as a pre-harvest spray on wheat crops. This is why the Soil Association is calling for an immediate end to the use of these sprays on wheat destined for use in bread.

Project CV
Soil Association

The Soil Association is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. Its not-for-profit subsidiary Soil Association Certification inspects and certifies the largest number of registered organic farms and businesses in the UK – as well as operating in 28 countries across the world. Natasha Collins-Daniel is a campaigner and press office manager at the Soil Association.

wheat_320The amount of glyphosate in bread sits well below the level deemed unsafe by the EU but this level has not been revised since the WHO’s ‘probable carcinogen’ ruling – this conclusion may mean there is no safe level. In addition, the accepted levels for glyphosate residues have always been a matter of controversy – if glyphosate is an endocrine disrupter, as some scientists suggest, there is no safe lower level for human consumption.

The Soil Association held a scientific briefing on this in Westminster – the panel included Professor Christopher Portier, one of the co-authors of the IARC report, Dr Robin Mesnage of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at Kings College in London, and Claire Robinson, editor of GMWatch.org.

The chemical industry has accused the WHO of classifying glyphosate as a probable carcinogen along with things like coffee and bacon. This is rubbish for two reasons – firstly, the IARC has a number of categories for classification – coffee appears in category 2B, “possible carcinogen”, meaning there is limited evidence in humans and less than sufficient evidence in animals.

“We can’t rely on regulators to protect our health; the battle will be won by consumers insisting that their food doesn’t contain any glyphosate.”

Natasha Collins-Daniel, Soil Association campaigner

Glyphosate is in category 2A – the same category as human papillomavirus type 68, inorganic lead compounds and dry cleaning fluid: there is limited evidence in humans and sufficient evidence in animals; there is strong enough evidence to conclude it is probably carcinogen to humans. Secondly, people can choose not to drink coffee or cook their bacon in a way that means it’s safe to eat – the choice has been taken away from them when it comes to glyphosate. One expert at our scientific briefing remarked that glyphosate is literally everywhere in our food chain – throughout our water and food – there’s no escape.

A field of wheat being harvested.

Outside the United Kingdom, the reaction to the WHO IARC report has been dramatic. Some retailers in Switzerland and Germany have removed glyphosate products and France has committed to do so by 2018. Meanwhile, German states are calling for an EU-wide ban, and the Danish Working Environment Authority has declared it as a carcinogen. El Salvador and Sri Lanka have banned it, and the Colombian government has banned aerial spraying on coca crops.

The glyphosate spraying season is in full swing, and in the interests of human health and the quality of British bread, bread manufacturers and supermarkets needs to call an immediate halt to the spraying. We can’t rely on regulators to protect our health; the battle will be won by consumers insisting that their food doesn’t contain any glyphosate.

words: Natasha Collins-Daniel, Soil Association campaigner


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What do you think of "Not in our bread"

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Mariska van Loenen 5 years ago

There is a world of difference between ‘contains’ or ‘can contain’. It is important to make that clear. Otherwise a statement like this amounts to nothing but scaremongering.

Paul 4 years ago

While I wholeheartedly support the campaign to eliminate use of herbicides and pesticides as much as possible, articles such as this one, with “facts” such as “Roundup may be 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate itself” with no references whatsoever do the movement more harm than good. The Soil Association’s pointless article (http://www.soilassociation.org/notinourbread) is quoted all over the web, but that, too, contains a lot of “facts” and only quotes ONE source for ONE fact. I’m sure if I searched around, there would be many articles (probably written by supporters of the chemical giants) ripping this one to shreds, saying how it has no scientific basis, is just someone’s opinion, etc. and tragically, they’d be right. PLEASE, if we’re to get any kind of movement against these corporations trying to poison us and our beautiful planet, we must fight the cause in a scientific manner!

Reply to Paul
Paul 4 years ago

Aha – I’ve found the scientific paper to which the author was probably referring: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955666/
I’ve plucked a few juicy quotes from this paper:
“Most importantly, 8 formulations out of 9 were up to one thousand times more toxic than their active principles.”

“Ethoxylated adjuvants found in glyphosate-based herbicides were up to 10.000 times more toxic than the so-called active AP glyphosate [1] and are better candidates for secondary side effects.”

“Roundup was found in this experiment to be 125 times more toxic than glyphosate. Moreover, despite its reputation, Roundup was by far the most toxic among the herbicides and insecticides tested.”

125 or 1000? I’m probably not interpreting this correctly – I’m neither a chemist nor a biologist.

Gary Frewin 4 years ago

A disgustingly misleading campaign that is more likely to harm consumers than help them. No rational person can possibly support this nonsense…

Janet Parrish 4 years ago

Definitely not in our bread! It is totally irresponsible to spray food crops with weed killer. Glyphosate is safe to use on paths and areas that need clearing of perreniel weeds. It was not designed to be consumed. Gardeners use it responsibly.