The controversy surrounding agrichem monolith Monsanto and their signature Roundup weedkiller spilled into the beverage world this week. Public advocacy group U.S. PIRG just released a report that contends Roundup’s key ingredient (and suspected carcinogen) glyphosate was found in 19 of 20 beers and wines tested for the study.
The test revealed the presence of glyphosate in brands including Beringer, Barefoot, Sutter Home, Budweiser, Coors, Miller Lite, Sam Adams, Samuel Smith Organic, and New Belgium.
Of the positive results, Sutter Home Merlot had the highest levels at 51.4ppb and Frey Organic Natural White Blend the lowest at 4.8ppb. Peak Beer Organic IPA got a gold star for testing completely negative for the substance.
Now, it’s important to note that according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, none of these beverages tested anywhere close to harmful levels. “An adult would have to drink more than 140 glasses of wine a day containing the highest glyphosate level measured just to reach the level that California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has identified as ‘No Significant Risk Level,’” wrote a spokesperson for the Wine Institute in a statement to USA TODAY.
Still, PIRG pre-preemptively dismissed this defense. In a release, the group pointed to a second study that posited even one part per trillion of glyphosate can spur the growth of breast cancer cells and harm the endocrine system. “The levels of glyphosate we found are not necessarily dangerous but are still concerning given the potential health risks,” the PIRG stated.
The activists’ case was also bolstered by a series of ongoing legal challenges to Monsanto centered around the pesticide. In fact, on Monday a San Francisco court began proceedings in a high profile test case against the company. In August, a different San Francisco judge awarded a $289mn (later chopped to $78mn) settlement to a man who contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma due to Roundup. The two cases could set precedent for thousands of other complaints filed against Monsanto.
The new report also spoke to a larger problem. The researchers contended that part of the problem could be attributed to tainted water supplies and farmland. For example, Frey is an organic and biodynamic vineyard. That means that no artificial pesticides or herbicides are employed in their growing process, yet their grapes still managed to soak up trace amounts of glyphosate.
“When you’re having a beer or a glass of wine, the last thing you want to think about is that it includes a potentially dangerous pesticide,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Kara Cook-Schultz, who authored the study. “No matter the efforts of brewers and vintners, we found that it is incredibly difficult to avoid the troubling reality that consumers will likely drink glyphosate at every happy hour and backyard barbeque around the country.”
Many of the producers named in the report contested the methodology employed during followup outreach.Still, overall, the industry was quick to condemn the Monsanto product.
The Brewers Association, a massive trade group for craft brewers issued a statement in response. They declared, “Brewers do not want glyphosate used on barley or any raw brewing material, and the barley grower organizations have also come out strongly against glyphosate.”
Fortunately, there is a precedent for change. Last summer, Germany (home of Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer) passed legislation to ban use of glyphosate. The regulation received heavy support from the nation’s legendary brewing industry.