You’re not the only one! Recently the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) reported traces of this weed-killer have been found in New Zealand honey. If you love your honey you want to be sure it’s free of this weed-killer. So let’s look at what it is all about….
It all goes back to when glyphosate was first developed and brought to market as Roundup® in the 1970s by the American company Mosanto. Since then, glyphosate has become the world’s most widely used weed-killer, applied for home garden and commercial use, across the planet.
Opinions are divided on whether or not, or to what degree, glyphosate is harmful to people, principally as a carcinogen. It is not my purpose to debate this issues here except to note that, whatever the case, a number of countries in Europe and Asia have banned or set restrictions on the use of glyphosate in recent years, and a number of others are looking to do the same. So, there are real concerns out there about the widespread use of glyphosate and its entry into the food production chain.
I’m glad to say that these limits do exist! Countries that allow the use of glyphosate recognise that, to protect human health, they need to set limits to the acceptable level for daily intake by a person. In the USA this acceptable level of glyphosate intake is set as 1.75 mg/kg of body weight per day, whilst in Europe the level is set as 0.5 mg/kg of body weight per day.
Glyphosate is used in these countries, as in New Zealand, for managing weed growth that competes with the growing of foods such as vegetables and grains. Traces of glyphosate can remain in the chain of food production and so can be taken into the body when these foods are eaten. This is why washing of foods is such an important part of the food preparation process. But what about glyphosate in honey – how does it actually get there?
Many plants will die and stop excreting nectar when sprayed with glyphosate, but some are resistant, and do not die at all, or do not die quickly, and they continue to excrete nectar in the flower. When a bee alights on these flowers to collect nectar, it will also collect traces of glyphosate in the nectar and return it to the hive. This is quite simply how glyphosate can end up in honey. Some countries have found traces of glyphosate in their honeys and there’s a growing interest in measuring this, and also determining how much glyphosate residue is acceptable in honey.
Some countries have set a maximum residue limit (MRL) for glyphosate in honey. In Europe this MRL is set at 0.05 mg/kg. In countries such as New Zealand where a specific MRL has not been set, the default MRL of 0.1 mg/kg is applied. So, what in practice does this mean?
Whilst ideally we would never want to see any glyphosate in honey, the reality is that if it is used in the environment then bees may well pick it up at some point in their foraging. To assess what might be an ‘acceptable’ limit, we can combine the acceptable limit for daily intake with the MRL for honey. Let’s do this using the parameters from Europe which are generally more stringent than other standards – daily intake of 0.5 mg/kg bodyweight with MRL in honey of 0.05 mg/kg. This means someone weighing 90 kilograms would need to consume 900 kilograms of honey a day, containing 0.05 mg/kg of glyphosate residue, to exceed the acceptable level of glyphosate intake in Europe. Now we know that this is a lot of honey, so we can have confidence that the levels set as MRL for honey ensure the risk of harm is minimal. So just why all the fuss? What then is the problem?
The problem is when the traces of glyphosate in honey exceed the MRL. Or when in total, a person is ingesting more glyphosate than the daily intake levels, across the range of foods eaten in a day. We need to be vigilant about what we eat, how it was produced and how we prepare it for a meal in order to avoid ingesting traces of glyphosate. We also need to hold food producers to account on their values and practices with regard to contaminants such as glyphosate, otherwise contamination of our food could reach levels that are unacceptable for human health.
As a honey producer, we at Manawa Honey NZ can’t deal with glyphosate residue in other foods, or the glyphosate residue in honey produced by others. What we can deal with is how we produce our honey. We take special care in the placement of our hives into areas that are pristine, untouched and free from contamination by glyphosate and other poisons. So, when we enquired about how our honey fared in the testing for this weed-killer, it was of no surprise to us that MPI tests found no traces of glyphosate in our honey.
Touch upon the flavours and moods of our forests, and the mist and mountains of our valley through our exquisite range of Honeys of Te Urewera….