Claim: U.S. farmers are saturating wheat crops with Roundup herbicide as a desiccant before each harvest, causing an increase in
Example: [Collected via e-mail, November 2014]
Origins: On 13 November 2014, the Healthy Home Economist web site published an article by Sarah Pope asserting that the reason people sometimes (but not always) experience digestive ailments after consuming wheat in the U.S. is because U.S. wheat farmers engage in "desiccation," the practice of spraying wheat fields with Monsanto's Roundup brand herbicide (glyphosate) prior to harvest in order to ensure even ripening and easier harvesting:
The bad news is that the problem lies with the manner in which wheat is harvested by conventional wheat farmers.
Standard, recommended wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as withered, dead wheat plants are less taxing on the farm equipment and allow for an earlier and easier harvest.
Using Roundup as a desiccant on the wheat fields prior to harvest may save the farmer money and increase profits, but it is devastating to the health of the consumer who ultimately consumes those ground up wheat kernels which have absorbed a significant amount of Roundup!
Additionally, the author's claim that "According to the US Department of Agriculture, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat [in the U.S.] has been doused with Roundup as part of the harvesting process" is unsupported by documentation. Although glyphosate has been suggested for pre-harvest application in some places (such as Canada and Europe), the author appears to have confused a chart showing the overall percentage of glyphosate application wheat crops in the U.S. for one specifically detailing pre-harvest glyphosate usage on wheat crops. Those are two very different measurements.
Additionally, there appears to be some confusion in cited materials of the practice of desiccation and the practice of pre-harvest herbicide application, which are also two very different usages:
A: Yes, and the use is a matter of preference. True desiccants are harvest management tools that rapidly kill above ground growth of crops and weeds. This allows for rapid dry down and an earlier harvest. Desiccants will not give long-term weed control and any late moisture may cause both the weeds and the crop to start to re-grow.
Pre-harvest glyphosate application is generally used for perennial weed control. It can be used as a harvest management tool for dry down but the effects take much longer to appear. Pre-harvest glyphosate is a good tool for long-term control of perennial weeds such as Canada thistle, quackgrass, toadflax and dandelions.
Our family has been wheat/cattle ranchers for generations. And we've never heard of anyone doing this and we ourselves sure don't. We raise winter wheat on 2,000 acres in NW Oklahoma on the incorporated family farm. The wheat usually doesn't need help to "die" so it can be harvested.
I am a farmer's wife in central Kansas, and for my whole 36 years of life, and can assure you this is not a common practice. We are not an organic farm, and we do not use Round-Up on our wheat to kill it for harvest. Wheat ripens naturally on its own — the plants lose their green color and the heads tips down — usually as the summer heat comes on in June.
I know of no wheat farmer in the US that sprays glyphosate or RoundUp on their wheat. It is not a practice that is endorsed on our farm and would never suggest it to another farmer. Wheat close to the stage of harvest has already completed its lifecycle, so from an economic perspective it's a complete waste of money to spray the crop.
Coming from a completely conventional farm family we also have never and know no one who has ever done this. It doesn't make sense financially and that is the reason cited for doing it. Roundup is expensive as is the application especially as it would have to be done by air plane to avoid destroying the crop.
You are incorrect. My family farms and I can tell you for a fact that putting Round up on a crop ready to harvest is simply not done. Besides being a big waste of money (do you have any clue how much herbicide is needed for a 100 acre field? Or how much it costs a producer to apply it just once?), it makes no sense to apply it once the crop has lived its life cycle.
A: Denial doesn't magically make the problem disappear. Please do some research and see for yourself the truth about what the wheat industry is doing to the health of American citizens.
And as Alberta wheat country's Sarah Schultz noted of the author's claim that "when you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds resulting in a slightly greater yield":
Bloggers like Sarah Pope from The Healthy Home Economist have a big misunderstanding about wheat and glyphosate. She states on her blog after reading Seneff's paper: "When you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds resulting in a slightly greater yield." This is completely false. The yield of the crop is already determined because the wheat has stopped
The EPA considers glyphosate to be noncarcinogenic and relatively low in dermal and oral acute toxicity. The EPA considered a "worst case" dietary risk model of an individual eating a lifetime of food derived entirely from glyphosate-sprayed fields with residues at their maximum levels. This model indicated that no adverse health effects would be expected under such conditions.
A 2000 review concluded that "under present and expected conditions of new use, there is no potential for Roundup herbicide to pose a health risk to humans." A 2002 review by the European Union reached the same conclusion.
- The article does not document any recent increase in or unusually high level of wheat sensitivity in humans.
- Even if an increase in wheat sensitivity were documented, that wouldn't necessarily mean the phenomenon was due to a change in the production of wheat; it could simply mean that we are getting better at recognizing and identifying wheat sensitivities that have existed for a long time but previously went undiagnosed.
- A documented increase in wheat sensitivity could have any number of environmental causes apart from the use of glyphosate in wheat production, and no causal connection between the two has been proved here.
Last updated: 15 November 2014