The glyphosate legal case winding its way through our legal system provides a crystal-clear example of how a product can be maligned with misunderstanding of science and over-zealous consumer advocates.
By now you’ve likely read about how a California jury awarded $289 million to cancer-riddled Lee Johnson in August. The judge recently reduced that to just under $80 million, but, lawyers are lining up with 8,700-plus new claims that will soon be launched against Bayer, the manufacturer of Roundup.
As my colleague Chris Bennett writes in a story for AgWeb, “science and perception need not match in order for reality to change.” In other words, the science may say glyphosate is safe, but a jury said otherwise.
And that creates headlines. Outside the legal system, glyphosate got more bad news as the Environmental Working Group released its findings on glyphosate in cereal. The results found none of the 28 cereals tested violated limits on the herbicide established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But, the EWG is not interested in touting the fact cereal makers are selling safe food. EWG needs to find danger in food to make headlines, so they set their own standards for glyphosate in cereal. After adjusting the rules mid-game, all but two of the 28 samples had levels of glyphosate above EWG's own health benchmark of 160 parts per billion (ppb). (So, what is ppb, one blade of grass in a football field?)
Editors had a field day. “Dozens more breakfast foods test positive for trace amounts of weed killer,” read one headline. (“Food” and “killer” in a headline always draws a crowd.) Except, here’s the fine print: California has proposed a new glyphosate limit of its own that is lower than the one the FDA and EPA allow. Yet, even California’s proposed lower limit is more than a hundred times higher than the EWG’s threshold.
So, while none of the cereals listed by EWG violated EPA limits, nor even come close, EWG’s story made headline across all types of media.
In a statement, General Mills, whose products were cited in the report, maintained that glyphosate levels in its foods do not pose any health risks.
"The extremely low levels of pesticide residue cited in recent news reports is a tiny fraction of the amount the government allows," the company said in statement. "Consumers are regularly bombarded with alarming headlines, but rarely have the time to weigh the information for themselves." Amen.