Can You Taste Pesticides in Your Food?

pesticides in food

Story at-a-glance -

  • While fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest foods, they are also commonly contaminated with pesticides and herbicides, which may change their taste
  • In blind taste tests, participants were able to identify wines containing pesticides and some tasters could identify an exact pesticide combination
  • Although labeled “all natural,” many foods contain trace amounts of glyphosate, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls safe; individuals and activists disagree, which is the basis for recent lawsuits
  • Monsanto continues to fight for market share at the expense of the environment and human health, through strong-arm tactics they insist are necessary

By Dr. Mercola

As I have reported in the past, while fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest foods you can eat, nonorganic varieties are commonly contaminated with pesticides. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports more than 75 percent of the U.S. population has detectable levels of organophosphate pesticides in their urine.1

In a survey conducted in 2013,2 71 percent of Americans expressed concern over the number of chemicals and pesticides in their food supply. Studies linking long-term pesticide exposure to neurological diseases,3 birth defects,4 endocrine disruption, obesity, cancers5 and more are only growing in number. It therefore follows, if you reduce your pesticide exposure, it would likely improve your health and reduce your risk for chronic diseases.

Unfortunately, while research demonstrates exposure to these pesticides is unhealthy for both human health and the environment, the amount used commercially and in residential areas only continues to grow. According to an analysis done in 2012 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,6 for every 1 percent increase in crop yield there is an associated 1.8 percent increase in pesticide use.

Logically, this is an unsustainable course as the environmental and health ramifications associated with pesticide use and exposure rise accordingly. Even after years of exposure to pesticides in your foods, scientists have found you may well be able to tell the difference between eating organically grown foods and those laced with glyphosate and other pesticides.7

Does Your Food Taste Dry?

In a first-of-its-kind study led by University of Caen Normandy molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini, Ph.D., scientists examined 16 pairs of organic and nonorganic wines produced in seven regions of France and one from Italy. To ensure the best comparison, the wines were produced with the same varieties of grapes grown organically and conventionally, in the same types of soils and neighboring vineyards, as well as in the same climate and in the same year.8

The researchers carried out 195 blind taste tests by 36 professionals from the wine and culinary industries. The wines chosen were tested for over 250 different pesticides in a laboratory. One of the organic bottles was found to contain trace amount of pesticides. In the nonorganic wines, 4,686 parts per billion of different pesticides were found, mostly fungicides and glyphosate-based herbicides.9

In preparation for the test, pesticides were diluted in water at levels present in the nonorganic wines. In 85 percent of the cases, professionals were able to recognize pesticides by taste and 58 percent of the professionals were able to recognize all the water glasses containing pesticides.10 Next, the professionals were asked to taste the wines. Of those who were able to detect pesticides in the water, 57 percent could match the wine with the water containing the exact blend of pesticides.

The wine connoisseurs and culinary experts preferred organic wines 77 percent of the time.11 Participants were asked to describe the taste of the pesticides, offering terms such as "drying" effect and papilla blockade. The latter term described an impaired sense of taste brought on by drinking wine contaminated with pesticides.

The researchers believe their test demonstrated people are able to recognize the taste of pesticides in drinks and potentially in foods. They concluded12 "there is no scientific reason why this is not feasible." Adding:13

"A larger study could also be envisaged, not only to confirm the presence and distribution of pesticides in food and beverages, but also to progress from this primary test of feeling to sensory test on a wider range of pesticides and a larger number of volunteers."

Foods Labeled 'All Natural' Include Glyphosate and Other Pesticides

The consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry is one of the largest in North America, valued at approximately $2 trillion.14 The anti-GMO activist group, Moms Across America,15 tested CPG lunch food products, finding trace levels of herbicide were frequently present in products from Lipton tea to Skippy's peanut butter. The group used Health Research Institute Laboratories to test products, revealing glyphosate in samples of almond milk, veggie burgers and other products.16

Even though the levels fall below the EPA's legally permitted thresholds for pesticides in food, Moms Across America describe the levels as "disturbing."17 What Moms Across America knows, and manufacturers would like you to disregard, is that while the amount of herbicide and pesticide found in a single item may be small, it's compounded daily by the number of products you eat every day, 365 days of the year.

Thus, while the levels of pesticides fall within legally permitted thresholds,18 they may drastically exceed them if you regularly eat a lot of processed foods. Moms Across America believes no level of glyphosate is safe, even in microscopic quantities. The consumer group also argues products claiming to be "all natural," should not contain any level of glyphosate. This same point has been made in a number of recent lawsuits.

In coming months, California's Proposition 65, a list of chemicals believed to be carcinogenic, will include glyphosate. Formerly known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, this initiative was designed to protect drinking water sources from toxic substances by requiring advanced warning of exposure.19

Judge Increases Cost of Legal Action to Defend Consumers

A lawsuit filed by the Organic Consumers Association alleges a misrepresentation in Bigelow green tea, as the company labels it "all natural" but testing finds trace levels of glyphosate residue. The lawsuit was filed just three days before the EPA issued a draft risk assessment for glyphosate, finding20 "glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." The risk assessment goes on to say the EPA finds no potential ecological risk to birds, mammals and aquatic plants.

Thus, the EPA refuses to acknowledge the plethora of independent research demonstrating toxic effects of glyphosate on the environment and human health. In an interesting turn of events, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit accusing Quaker Oats of misleading consumers with their 100 percent natural claims on products containing trace levels of glyphosate.21 The lawsuit was brought at the state level in Illinois. However, the federal judge stated:22

"Because Congress has preempted the field of food labeling, and because the presence of pesticides and chemical residues is governed by federal statute, plaintiffs cannot challenge Quaker Oats labeling understate or common law."

According to a leading food law attorney quoted in the Food Navigator, the ruling does not accurately reflect preemption of the federal government and therefore is likely to be overturned. However, the ruling has effectively increased the cost and lengthened the time for the trial.

Why Manufacturers Often Do Not Just Switch to Organic Ingredients

When asked for a comment about how manufacturers should respond to the rising number of lawsuits against them, attorney Ryan Kaiser from the law firm of Amin Talati Upadhye,23 who focuses on the food and beverage industry, said:24

"Indemnification clauses can help shift the expense of litigation to the supplier. It will take away some of the sting from paying settlement amounts. Manufacturers can also budget for these challenges and see them through in court, which we're seeing a lot of brands doing with success."

In other words, manufacturers are more interested in weighing the cost versus benefit ratio in making decisions about the production of their goods. This means the company weighs the cost of a lawsuit against lost profits if they make changes in their supply chain to ensure glyphosate and other pesticides are eliminated. As manufacturers find the immediate increase in cost of using organically grown ingredients is higher than the potential cost of lawsuits, they frequently opt not to change their process.

This has been demonstrated numerous times in past years, but never so prominently as when DuPont was fined $16.5 million for not disclosing information about the risks to health and the environment by using C8 in the production of Teflon.25

Although the penalty was one of the highest ever made by the EPA, it was only a small portion of the profits DuPont enjoys from the manufacture and use of the chemical. The fine did not stop the company from continuing to pollute the environment. It appears DuPont estimated the risk of a penalty and lawsuits against their profits, and profits won.

Glyphosate Is Decimating Soil Microbes and Your Gut Microbiome

Your gut microbiome is vital to your health, and microbes living in the soil are vital to the health of growing plants. Unfortunately, glyphosate is known to decimate both. Already at the center of several class action lawsuits filed by cancer patients, another recent study26 has linked glyphosate with a reduction in beneficial bacteria in the colon.

Female rats were exposed to Monsanto's weed killer Roundup, the active ingredient of which is glyphosate, and found that regardless of the dose, gut bacteria underwent significant changes.

The study was conducted by Seralini, the same French molecular biologist who led the featured wine study. Seralini has spent years researching genetically modified food and the impact glyphosate has on human health.27 He is best known for his study linking genetically modified corn and Roundup to cancer. While pressure from Monsanto initially led to the retraction of the study, it has since been republished.28

Your health is in large part determined by the health of the soil in which your food is grown. Industrial farming practices have been in place for close to a century and have decimated the soil by killing the microbes living there. By undermining the health of the soil and plants from the roots up, industrial farming has negatively impacted the nutrient density of most food. As a result, even though you think you're eating some of the healthiest foods available, they may be deficient in micronutrients.

The active ingredient in a vast majority of weed killers on the market today is glyphosate. As any plant sprayed with the chemical dies, pesticide producers created glyphosate resistant seed through genetic engineering. This has allowed farmers to spray their plants without fear the chemical will decimate the crops. However, it does kill the bacteria living in the soil and glyphosate in your food kills bacteria living in your gut.

Glyphosate also interrupts intracellular communication, which is at the heart of virtually all diseases. To discover more about how glyphosate interferes with soil microbes and cellular communication, see my previous article, "How Soil Microbes and Intercellular Communication Affects Human Health."

As I've discussed at length in previous articles, your gut has an enormous influence on a variety of systems in your body, including your neurological health. It even influences your genetic expression. A healthy gut microbiome helps prevent a number of health conditions, including depression, obesity, Crohn's disease and allergies. You'll find more information about the relationship between your gut microbiome and health in my previous article, "Research Reveals the Importance of Your Microbiome for Optimal Health."

Monsanto Suing to Protect Empire Built on Carcinogens

Industry giants are actively fighting to protect their financial base at the expense of your health. In Monsanto's newest move to acquire information, they served a 168-page court subpoena to Avaaz,29 a web-based organization promoting activism on subjects such as human rights, corruption and poverty. Avaaz has roughly 45 million subscribers30 worldwide, nearly 4 million of whom face having their personal information and communication with Avaaz about Monsanto handed to the corporate giant if this subpoena is not overturned.31

Avaaz has been part of an activist movement trying to regulate the distribution and use of glyphosate, which provided Monsanto with over $10 million in revenue in 2015.32 Additionally, the company posted revenue of $4.7 million from the sale of genetically altered seed bred to withstand the application of glyphosate. As the popularity of glyphosate has grown,33 so have the number of studies demonstrating the risks associated with human health and the environment.

The subpoena is requesting the release of documentation and notes, "without limitation."34 Avaaz says this will include personal information about their employees and signatory emails of more than 4 million who signed petitions against Monsanto's glyphosate and genetic modification policies. The scope of the subpoena is greater than what has been granted in the past and is significant as Monsanto has a history of tapping into deep pockets to use strong-arm tactics against critics.35

Scott Partridge, Monsanto vice president for global strategy, claims the massive subpoena is aimed at gathering evidence to uncover links between Avaaz and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma suffers who are currently suing Monsanto. Partridge commented,36 "This [subpoena] is directed entirely at the coordinated campaign between Avaaz and the plaintiff's lawyers, spreading misinformation about the safety of glyphosate, or characterizing it as being a carcinogen."

Emma Ruby-Sachs, deputy director of Avaaz, responded to the subpoena describing how this strategy may undermine the rights of individuals against corporations in the future, saying:37

"Avaaz beat Monsanto in Europe and in Argentina, and so they're coming after us in U.S. courts. Imagine a world where any time you called on your government to regulate a corporation because science showed its products could be making people sick, that corporation could force you to reveal everything you and your friends had ever privately written or said about them. That is the world Monsanto is hoping to create.

There are millions of people around the world who have a deep and genuine concern that Monsanto's glyphosate is making us and our environment sick. That is the sole reason our members have called on governments to regulate it based on independent science. We're not going to let this legal attack slowdown that essential work one bit.

We believe Monsanto's demand for all our internal communications is a complete violation of our First Amendment rights — they even go after the email addresses of hundreds of thousands of Avaaz members! And, critically, none of this has anything to do with Ronald Peterson and Jeff Hall's claim that Monsanto's products gave them cancer."