The Growing Problem of Toxic Food
Better Nutrition|October 2021
In a new book, an MIT scientist sounds the alarm about the health degrading effects of a common weed killer used on many of the crops we eat—and shares tips on how to protect ourselves.
MELISSA DIANE SMITH

Q: I used to spray Roundup on weeds in my yard, but I stopped doing that a few years ago after I learned about people who developed cancer after using it. I thought I was protected from exposure, but I’ve since heard from several sources that this chemical is used on many foods that we eat. What can I do?

A: One by one, people are waking up to the far-reaching problem of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, in our environment and food supply. “I believe that glyphosate is the most dangerous environmental chemical we face today due to its unique mechanism of toxicity, careless application, and pervasive presence,” writes Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D., an MIT senior research scientist, in her new book, Toxic Legacy. After close to a decade of research on the chemical, Seneff outlines how glyphosate is eroding human health in numerous ways.

Not using glyphosate-based weed killers is the first step toward protecting yourself, but the far trickier step is to avoid indirect or hidden sources of glyphosate, especially in the foods we eat.

The Alarming Rise in Glyphosate Use

It’s hard for many of us to grasp that glyphosate’s use has increased 300-fold since it was introduced in 1974. It particularly skyrocketed after the introduction of herbicide-resistant, Roundup Ready genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in 1996, but glyphosate is not just sprayed on GMO crops. It’s also used as a pre-harvest drying agent on non-GMO crops such as wheat, oats, and legumes. Surprisingly, the highest levels of glyphosate have consistently been found in these non-GMO foods.

Today nearly 150,000 tons of glyphosate are sprayed onto American crops each year—the equivalent of one pound of glyphosate per year for every person in the United States.

Health Problems from Glyphosate

Glyphosate wasn’t on Seneff ’s radar for the first 64 years of her life, but since September 2012, she has worked tirelessly to understand the chemical and its effects on our health. The following are key points from her book:

Cancer: Excessive DNA damage is a precursor to cancer, and human liver cells and human white blood cells exposed to glyphosate suffer DNA damage. Cancer can take a long time to develop, and the scientific literature points to glyphosate being carcinogenic, “priming the body to fall prey to cancer,” she writes.

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