Tests of 15 wine and beer products by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found all but one contained glyphosate, the weed-killing ingredient in Monsanto's widely used Roundup. In a release, U.S. PIRG said while the levels found were below Environmental Protection Agency risk tolerances for beverages, even low levels of glyphosate could be problematic.
Samples of five wines and 10 beers were tested, the group said. Beringer, Barefoot and Sutter Home were some of the wine brands tested, while the beer brands tested included Budweiser, Coors, Miller Lite, Sam Adams, Samuel Smith Organic and New Belgium. Sutter Home Merlot had the highest level of glyphosate of the wine samples, at 51.4 parts per billion, the report said. For beer, Tsingtao from China had the highest level, with 49.7 ppb. Coors Light had 31.1 ppb, and Peak Beer Organic IPA had no detectable traces of glyphosate.
U.S. PIRG acknowledged 20 wine and beer samples doesn't equal a full scientific study of how much glyphosate is in the beverage industry, but said the testing provides consumers with "compelling evidence" the industry sources ingredients that use glyphosate-based herbicides. "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," the group said.
U.S. PIRG said although the glyphosate levels found in the wine and beer samples aren't necessarily dangerous, they're still concerning because of the potential health risks and simply because traces of the weed killer were present.
"What is surprising is that glyphosate found its way into almost every type of beer and wine tested, including organic products. That indicates that consumers who want to avoid glyphosate, due to its probably health effects, would have a difficult time doing so," the report says.
Beer and wine industry representatives told USA Today the glyphosate levels were well below federally acceptable amounts, and a person would have to drink massive amounts to get anywhere near problematic levels. The newspaper reported companies whose products were tested either questioned how accurate the study was or said the potential presence of trace amounts of herbicides was out of their control.
Glyphosate has come under serious scrutiny as a potential carcinogen. While Monsanto denies that the weed killer causes cancer, in 2015, the World Health Organization said it can probably be linked to the disease. California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has also labeled glyphosate as "known to cause cancer" and classified the chemical as carcinogenic under Proposition 65 in 2017. Monsanto challenged the listing, but lost the fight in August when the California Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal.
Traces of the chemical have also shown up in cereals, juices and ice cream, although whether those findings mean anything depends on who's doing the talking. Still, recent legal victories have cast doubt on how safe exposure to the herbicide might be.
Last year, a California jury awarded $289 million to a former school groundskeeper who said his cancer was caused by glyphosate exposure. Bayer — the German pharmaceutical and pesticide conglomerate which acquired Monsanto in June 2018 for $63 billion — asked a state court to set aside that decision, but failed to persuade the judge. However, the damage award was lowered to $78.6 million. Thousands of other cases are said to be wending their way through the courts.
The timing of this report is interesting because the first federal trial for a case claiming damage from Roundup exposure just started Monday in San Francisco. According to Reuters, plaintiff Edwin Hardeman claims using large amounts of Roundup to control weeds on his property caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, Bayer denies the product causes cancer and maintains it is safe for human use.
U.S. PIRG made several recommendations in the report. The group said the EPA should set specific tolerance levels for glyphosate in beer and wine since there aren't any now, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should test beer and wine for glyphosate before the products are sold at retail outlets. The USDA doesn't currently test any products for glyphosate, even though it tests for similar weed killers and other pesticides, U.S. PIRG said.
The Food and Drug Administration has been testing for glyphosate in the food supply for the past two years and, according to Politico, is evaluating the results and plans to release them. Once released, that information could sway the public about the chemical's relative safety.
Meanwhile, it's possible some consumers will shy away from the wine and beer brands tested. It's also possible beer and wine producers will look to source organic ingredients or those with no detectable glyphosate residues in order to avoid losing business. Given how ubiquitous the weed killer has become in the environment, though, that may be easier said than done.