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Food Herbicide Residues Set to Rise As Much As 150 Times Proposed new level already breached 100 times over

Immediate release (8 Feb 2012)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Monsanto has applied to increase the EU’s permitted Maximum Residue Level (MRL) for its best-selling herbicide glyphosate in lentils. Proposals before the EU would mean increasing the current legal residue level by 100-150 times. [1] The chemical is widely used on GM crops and elsewhere for weed control and to dry crops prior to harvest.

The current EU MRL for glyphosate in lentils is 0.1 mg/kg. The proposal aims to raise this level to 10 mg/kg, or even 15mg/kg. [1] Rather than being based exclusively on safety grounds, the proposed new MRL appears to be partly based on levels already likely to be found in lentils as a result of the weedkiller being used close to harvest.

The proposed new level was recently breached by a shipment of Canadian lentils for human consumption. The Czech Republic withdrew the cargo from the market when it discovered glyphosate residues exceeding both EU and Canadian MRLs (tested at 10.5 mg/kg [2], more than 100 times the EU MRL; the current Canadian MRL for lentils is 4 mg/kg [3]).

Monsanto wants to “modify the existing MRL” to accommodate Canadian and US lentil farmers who use glyphosate as a desiccant to dry their crops 7-14 days before harvest. [1] Any rise in the EU MRL will ensure glyphosate sales to North American lentil growers can increase without jeopardising export sales. [3]

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a “reasoned opinion” in January 2012 supporting Monsanto’s request to raise the MRL in lentils and recommended a level of 10 or even 15 mg/kg (a potential 150-fold increase on the current MRL). [1] MRLs for other crops on which glyphosate is routinely applied while growing, such as wheat and GM soya, have already been granted similarly elevated MRLs by the EU. [1]

Glyphosate is coming under increased scrutiny by independent scientists because of concerns about its impact on human health including:

  • Possible links to birth defects, hormone disruption and non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Residues monitoring in humans has found glyphosate breakdown products in blood serum [7] and has been reported in the urine of German city dwellers [8]
  • Growing evidence that glyphosate can pass into foetuses via the placenta [9]

The weedkiller also damages the environment, including aquatic wildlife like frogs, fish, invertebrates and algae. [4] Recent reports from the US [5] and Spain [6] indicate glyphosate’s frequent presence in both surface and groundwater respectively.

GM crops, such as maize and soya, are frequently sprayed directly with glyphosate. Most of these crops are fed to animals, and residues in meat and milk may result. No regular monitoring of glyphosate residues in animal products has taken place in the EU in recent years.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

If Monsanto gets its way the EU it will again increase the glyphosate exposure people get from their diets without anyone realising it is happening. It seems clear this is part of Monsanto’s ongoing attempts to prop up chemical sales at the expense of human health and the environment.

EU regulators must reject the application. Permissible residue levels must protect public health, not to facilitate glyphosate use to suit Monsanto’s sales strategy, and they need to be rigorously enforced since cargos continue to breach permissible residue levels endangering the health of unwitting consumers.

Glyphosate is used very widely, so even unborn children can be exposed to the weedkiller in many different ways. It is far from clear the accumulation from all these sources is safe. We need to ensure glyphosate does not result in long-term public health problems by reviewing the growing body of scientific evidence on its safety and regulating accordingly. People have a right to expect protection from Monsanto’s weedkiller in their food and water.



[1] European Food Safety Authority, 2012. Reasoned opinion – Modification of the existing MRL for glyphosate in lentils

[2] EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) search results

[3] Government of Alberta, Agriculture and Rural Development Department, 15 August 2011. “Lentil Producers Unable to Use Glyphosate for Pre-harvest Weed Control
[4] GM Freeze and Greenpeace International, 30 June 2011. Herbicide Tolerance and GM Crops – Why the world should be ready to round up glyphosate

[5] Coupe RH, Kalkhoff SK, Capel PD and Gregoire C, 2011. “Fate and transport of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid in surface waters of agricultural basin”. Pesticide Management Science, 67, doi: 10.1002/ps.2212

[6] Sanchis J, et al, 2011. “Determination of glyphosate in groundwater samples using an ultrasensitive immunoassay and confirmation by on-line solid-phase extraction followed by liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry“. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry (ref DOI 10.1007/s00216-011-5541-y)

[7] Aziz A and Leblanc S, 2010. “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada”. Reproductive Toxicology

[8] von Dirk Brändli und Sandra Reinacher, 2012. “Herbizide im Urin”. Ithaka Journal

[9] Poulsen, M. S, et al, 2009. “Modeling placental transport: Correlation of in vitro BeWo cell permeability and ex vivo human placental perfusion.” Toxicology In Vitro 23: 1380–1386