Roundup will soon be labeled as potentially cancer causing, but what about the food sprayed with it?

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The key ingredient in Roundup – the most popular weed killer in the world – is now on a list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer.

The decision to add glyphosate to that list stemmed from the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s assessment that the herbicide is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The list is meant to help Californians make informed decisions about which products they buy. This means that Roundup and other products containing glyphosate sold in the state will most likely need to carry a warning label by next year, however this will not apply to crops that are genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup.

These crops are known as “Roundup Ready” crops and they are grown throughout the country. Many commodity crops – like wheat, soy beans, alfalfa and food crops for animals – are grown with Roundup Ready seeds.

The science is still out on whether glyphosate is harmful to humans when ingested at low levels. Groups testing for the compound found traces of it in foods like Quaker Oats, Ritz Crackers and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, although at levels below the ceiling set by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Tom Shepherd, an organic farmer from Nojoqui, just north of the Gaviota Coast thinks these foods should be labeled. “It leaves the consumer ignorant,” said Shepherd, who grows organic fruits and vegetables.

“It’s been my issue for ten years now that we haven’t forced the food companies to label genetically modified food products. We’re consuming foods that we don’t even know whether it’s grown with genetically modified Roundup Ready seed. To me, it’s a terrible concept.”

Tom Shepherd of Shepherd Farm at Santa Barbara’s Tuesday farmers market. (Kathryn Barnes/KCRW) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Even in Santa Barbara, said Shepherd, which isn’t known for growing commodity crops, it’s becoming more and more challenging to find land that hasn’t been treated with chemicals.

“Chemicals are indelible, and they don’t break down like a natural material does,” said Shepherd. “Indelible things get stuck in our bodies, and get stuck in the natural system. That’s one of the main reasons I’m an organic farmer.”

Cover photo by Mike Mozart

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