Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.

If there were a Hall of Fame for chemicals people worry about, it's likely that Monsanto's weedkiller Roundup would sit near or at the top of that dark pantheon.

It's been linked to cancers, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, liver disease, kidney disease, birth defects and more. On top of that, many believe it's what's been killing off the world's bees, vital participants in the human food chain.

Now, research just published in February by the education group U.S. PIRG, illumines that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, may be impacting humans routinely via our drinking habits. In the group's study, 20 beers and wines, including some organic beverages, were tested for the presence of glyphosate. It was found in 19 of them.

What are you drinking?

The only drink tested that contained no glyphosate was Peak Beer Organic IPA. The comestible with the highest amount of glyphosate? Sutter Home Merlot. The 19 are shown below with the parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate they contained.

Beers

  • Tsingtao Beer: 49.7 ppb
  • Coors Light: 31.1 ppb
  • Miller Lite: 29.8 ppb
  • Budweiser: 27.0 ppb
  • Corona Extra: 25.1 ppb
  • Heineken: 20.9 ppb
  • Guinness Draught: 20.3 ppb
  • Stella Artois: 18.7 ppb
  • Ace Perry Hard Cider: 14.5 ppb
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: 11.8 ppb
  • New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale: 11.2 ppb
  • Sam Adams New England IPA: 11.0 ppb
  • Stella Artois Cidre: 9.1 ppb
  • Samuel Smith's Organic Lager: 5.7 ppb

Wines

  • Sutter Home Merlot: 51.4 ppb
  • Beringer Founders Estates Moscato: 42.6 ppb
  • Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon: 36.3 ppb
  • Inkarri Malbec, Certified Organic: 5.3 ppb
  • Frey Organic Natural White: 4.8 ppb

Should such small amounts be of concern? Maybe. The report says:

"While these levels of glyphosate are below EPA risk tolerances for beverages, it is possible that even low levels of glyphosate can be problematic. For example, in one study, scientists found that 1 part per trillion of glyphosate has the potential to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells and disrupt the endocrine system."

(Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

Roundup on trial

The EPA says glyphosate is safe up to 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, and Bayer, who now owns Monsanto, claims that its safety for consumption by humans has been proven by years of research. However, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, among many others, disagrees, and considers glyphosate a potential human carcinogen. In addition, a new study finds that people exposed to glyphosate are 41 percent more likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. France has banned Roundup's use, and other European nations are said to be considering their own bans on the weedkiller.

There's also a trial underway in federal court in San Francisco that consolidates 760 of the U.S.'s 9,300 Roundup cases into a single suit against Bayer by Edwin Hardeman, a California resident. It's viewed as a test case.

Hardeman is currently in remission from non-Hodgkin's after having used Roundup extensively beginning in the 1980s to control poison oak and weeds on his property. He was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 66 in 2015. Bayer asserts that Hardeman has other conditions — his age and history of Hepatitis C — that more likely led to his illness; in any event, their lawyers say, non-Hodgkin's is often idiopathic anyway.

The judge has divided the case into two phases. In the first, jurors are to determine whether Roundup caused Hardeman's illness based on scientific evidence presented in court. Unfortunately, the jurors are not scientists, and one may wonder just how reasonable an endeavor this really is — it's likely to come down to the persuasiveness of evidence that's inevitably cherry-picked by the opposing legal teams to support their case.

If the jurors find Roundup is the illness's cause, a second phase can commence to assess responsibility. The plaintiffs have called this bifurcation "unfair," specifically because they believe their scientific evidence involves Monsanto's repression of research damaging to claims of glyphosate's safety, and the judge is not allowing any such supposedly off-topic submissions.

In August 2018, a more conventional courtroom approach led to a finding that Monsanto was to blame for school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma because they failed to warn its users of Roundup's potential risk as a cancer-causing product. That jury awarded Johnson $289 million in damages. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

(U.S. PIRG)

There's enough Roundup sprayed every year to spray nearly half a pound of glyphosate on every cultivated acre of land in the world, says U.S. PIRG.

A little extra kick in your beverage

This isn't the first time glyphosate's been found to have made its way into adult beverages. In Germany in 2016, the Munich Environmental Institute found it in every single sample they tested, including beers from independent brewers. A study in Latvia found the same thing. Using glyphosate directly on barley — beer's primary ingredient — is illegal in Germany, so it's most likely that the soil in which the crop was grown had been previously exposed to Roundup.

It's unlikely nine laypeople in a San Francisco courtroom will definitely answer the question of glyphosate's safety. It's clear that questions surrounding this ubiquitous weedkiller remain, Bayer's assertions notwithstanding.

U.S. PIRG concludes its report with a recommendation:

"Based on our findings, glyphosate is found in most beers and wine sold in the U.S. Due to glyphosate's many health risks and its ubiquitous nature in our food, water and alcohol, the use of glyphosate in the U.S. should be banned unless and until it can be proven safe."

(Kichigan/Shutterstock)

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Why Epicurean ideas suit the challenges of modern secular life

Sure, Epicureans focused on seeking pleasure – but they also did so much more.

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images
Culture & Religion

'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.


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