Why are farmers spraying glyphosate on their crops right before harvest?
Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup herbicide, is increasingly being found in cereals, baby foods, ice cream, honey, beer, wine, and other food products.
One reason for this increasing and insidious presence of glyphosate is due to pre-harvest crop desiccation, the practice of applying the weed-killer toward the end of the growing season, to kill the crop so it will dry sooner, enabling harvesting earlier than would naturally occur. The practice is widely used in the Great Plains, the grain belt in the Midwest, and western Canada.
The practice obviates the need for grain dryers, and synchronizes ripening of less mature plants with mature ones for more consistent yields—resulting in earlier sowing and better weed management. The practice is growing—though primarily used on wheat and oats, it now is used on close to 20 crops.
“Pre-harvest desiccation may account for only a small percentage of overall glyphosate use,” says Charles Benbrook, a glyphosate/health risks expert. “But it accounts for over 50 percent of dietary exposure.” A new study links the practice to celiac disease.
The USDA and EPA consider glyphosate safe and unlikely to cause cancer, and its thresholds were raised in 2015 for oats—from 0.1 ppm to 30 ppm.
“There never has been… much certainty regarding the health risks associated with glyphosate,” Benbrook says.
Ben & Jerry’s has promised to halt sourcing ingredients involved in pre-harvest desiccation by 2020.
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