Just a quick debunking post: Glyphosate and ‘toxic wheat’

Here we go again. It’s not scary Monsanto Gasmask Man, but it does feature Crop Sprayer Bad Guy. And more of the same misinformation. My explanation is below- this isn’t meant to be a dissertation or groundbreaking, blow-up-the-internet post, just one I can point to when this toxic wheat talk pops up…

On old article from expand-your-consciousness.com just made it to my feed, shared by some friends of mine. I’m a little sad inside when good people get duped by the alt health ‘fake news’ media, so I’ll refute the posts’ claims, one-by-one, to settle their minds a bit.

The first claim: “Standard wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as withered, dead wheat plants are less taxing on the farm equipment and allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest.”

First, let’s consider “drench” here. That suggests to me to spray to the point of saturation. Actually, when fields are sprayed with glyphosate, you’re usually talking about 2-6 pints per acre. That amounts to about 1/3 of a drop per square foot. Hardly a drenching, and if you do the math on the amount applied versus the biomass produced, not even taking into account degradation, soil binding, and runoff, you’re talking about parts per billion. As for “standard protocol”, it is actually quite rare to use glyphosate as a dry down material for wheat. Like, fraction of a percent rare. Most glyphosate is used pre-planting, well before there is any crop to be contacted.

Next is the use of Dr. Stephanie Seneff as a reliable source of information on the issue. Dr. Seneff is a computer scientist with zero training on plant science, toxicology, or epidemiology. She has recently been making the rounds on a kick against glyphosate ad has published several papers showing how it and GMOs (but never explaining which or their interactions) are to blame for rises in autism, cancers, celiac, nutritional disorder, you name it. The problem is, her papers are published in pay-to-publish, non peer-reviewed bunk journals and have been widely criticized across the scientific community to the point where she has no, none, zero credibility in this field. She may be a good computer modeler, I won’t doubt that. But these papers generally involve her developing a theoretical model to show a certain outcome, then of course her model gives that outcome, and she explains it with a bunch of bad science and poor reasoning. Even others in the alt health realm consider her a quack. Let’s remember that all of the supposed harms in the article are based on this questionable junk source.

As for USDA data showing “99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat has been doused with Roundup as part of the harvesting process. This is an increase from 88% for durum wheat, 91% for spring wheat and 47% for winter wheat since 1998”? The source given doesn’t even go to USDA data, but rather to another alt-health site the healthyhomeeconomist, which does indeed show a graph of percent of planted wheat acres treated with herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides, but to does not link back to the data. Nor does it say anything about the wheat being treated with glyphosate preharvest; usually, wheat fields are treated preplant which allows for no-till planting which is substantially better at conserving soil moisture, nutrients, and carbon (Alvarez et al. 1995, Reicosky et al. 1997, West and Marland 2002, McLauchlan 2006). Not to mention that glyphosate has a long track history of being among the safest herbicides available (Giesy et al. 2000, Williams et al. 2000, Roos et al. 2005, Mink et al. 2011, Mink et al. 2012, Székács and Darvas 2012, Williams et al. 2012, Kier and Kirkland 2013).

So you have a quack computer scientist saying that glyphosate causes all sorts of subtle but increasing health problems, an activist/alternative blog promoting data that doesn’t actually say what they say it does, and all demonizing a material with a long track history and better safety profile than its alternatives. I’d say this original article doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

But don’t just trust me, Snopes had the same thing to say:

“The most important point to take away from this article, however, is that it presents a flawed premise and doesn’t actually demonstrate any connection between current methods of wheat production and medical maladies in humans who consume it because:

  • The article does not document any recent increase in or unusually high level of wheat sensitivity in humans.
  • Even if an increase in wheat sensitivity were documented, that wouldn’t necessarily mean the phenomenon was due to a change in the production of wheat; it could simply mean that we are getting better at recognizing and identifying wheat sensitivities that have existed for a long time but previously went undiagnosed.
  • A documented increase in wheat sensitivity could have any number of environmental causes apart from the use of glyphosate in wheat production, and no causal connection between the two has been proved here.”



Alvarez, R., R. A. Díaz, N. Barbero, O. J. Santanatoglia, and L. Blotta. 1995. Soil organic carbon, microbial biomass and CO2-C production from three tillage systems. Soil and Tillage Research 33: 17-28.

Giesy, J. P., S. Dobson, and K. R. Solomon. 2000. Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment for Roundup® Herbicide, pp. 35-120. In G. W. Ware (ed.), Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology: Continuation of Residue Reviews. Springer New York, New York, NY.

Kier, L. D., and D. J. Kirkland. 2013. Review of genotoxicity studies of glyphosate and glyphosate-based formulations. Critical reviews in toxicology 43: 283-315.

McLauchlan, K. 2006. The nature and longevity of agricultural impacts on soil carbon and nutrients: a review. Ecosystems 9: 1364-1382.

Mink, P. J., J. S. Mandel, J. I. Lundin, and B. K. Sceurman. 2011. Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and non-cancer health outcomes: a review. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 61: 172-184.

Mink, P. J., J. S. Mandel, B. K. Sceurman, and J. I. Lundin. 2012. Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and cancer: A review. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 63: 440-452.

Reicosky, D. C., W. A. Dugas, and H. A. Torbert. 1997. Tillage-induced soil carbon dioxide loss from different cropping systems. Soil and Tillage Research 41: 105-118.

Roos, A. J. D., B. Aaron, J. A. Rusiecki, J. A. Hoppin, M. Svec, M. Dosemeci, D. P. Sandler, and M. C. Alavanja. 2005. Cancer Incidence among Glyphosate-Exposed Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives 113: 49-54.

Székács, A., and B. Darvas. 2012. Forty years with glyphosate, pp. 247-284. In M. N. A. E.-G. Hassaneen (ed.), Herbicides–properties, synthesis and control of weeds. . InTech Europe, Rijeka, Croatia.

West, T. O., and G. Marland. 2002. A synthesis of carbon sequestration, carbon emissions, and net carbon flux in agriculture: comparing tillage practices in the United States. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 91: 217-232.

Williams, A. L., R. E. Watson, and J. M. DeSesso. 2012. Developmental and reproductive outcomes in humans and animals after glyphosate exposure: a critical analysis. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B 15: 39-96.

Williams, G. M., R. Kroes, and I. C. Munro. 2000. Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31: 117-165.