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  • Writer's pictureKatja

Are chickpeas good for you?

Tests of Hummus Find High Levels of Glyphosate Weedkiller


The health-food staple hummus and the chickpeas it is made from can be contaminated with high levels of glyphosate, a weedkilling chemical linked to cancer, according to independent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG. The tests also found glyphosate in other kinds of dry and canned beans, dry lentils and garbanzo flour.

Of the 43 conventional, or non-organic, chickpea and chickpea-based samples tested, more than 90 percent had detectable levels of glyphosate.

Over one-third of the 33 conventional hummus samples exceeded EWG’s health-based benchmark for daily consumption, based on a 60-gram serving of hummus (about four tablespoons).

One sample of hummus had nearly 15 times as much glyphosate as EWG’s benchmark, and one of two tests from a sample of conventional dry chickpeas exceeded even the Environmental Protection Agency’s too-permissive legal standard.


EWG also tested 12 samples of organic hummus and six samples of organic chickpeas. Most contained glyphosate, but at much lower levels than their conventional counterparts: All but two were below our scientists’ health-based benchmark, although one dry chickpea sample had the highest average level of all our samples. Glyphosate use is not permitted on organic crops, so these samples may have been contaminated by the chemical drifting from nearby conventional crop fields, where it was likely sprayed as a pre-harvest drying agent.


Hummus and chickpeas, as well as other beans, offer multiple nutritional benefits, and you should not stop eating them. Our findings show the need not only for a ban on all pre-harvest uses of glyphosate but also for a much stricter EPA standard, and increased testing by the Food and Drug Administration to determine how widely glyphosate contaminates our food.


Glyphosate


Glyphosate is the herbicide sold for decades by Monsanto, now Bayer, under the brand name Roundup. It is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, as a probable human carcinogen, and by the State of California as a chemical known to cause cancer.

Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and worldwide, sprayed on different crops and during different parts of the growing season.


For consumers, most worrisome is the spraying of glyphosate, shortly before harvest, on many beans and grains as a drying agent. Previous tests by EWG and other public interest groups have found glyphosate in popular breakfast cereals and other foods people love to eat.

All samples were purchased by EWG researchers online or at major food retailers in the Washington, D.C., New York City and San Francisco metropolitan areas, including Aldi, Costco, Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, ShopRite, Target, Trader Joes, Walmart and Whole Foods grocery stores. Tests were conducted by Anresco Laboratories of San Francisco, which is accredited by the State of California.


Over one-third of the conventional hummus samples exceeded EWG’s health benchmark for glyphosate in hummus of 160 parts per billion, or ppb.

The hummus product with the highest level of glyphosate – more than 2,000 ppb in Whole Foods Market Original Hummus – was nearly 15 times the EWG benchmark.

Overall, 13 hummus samples exceeded EWG’s benchmark for glyphosate.


EWG also commissioned tests of 16 conventional and three organic samples of canned or dried varieties of lentils and black, navy, pinto and Great Northern beans. We found glyphosate in 68 percent of those samples. Four samples exceeded the EWG benchmark for daily consumption in a single serving, as listed on the product label: a sample of dried lentils, containing 544 ppb of glyphosate, and three samples of pinto beans, two canned and one dry.

In 2019, tests commissioned by Friends of the Earth detected glyphosate in 100 percent of 27 samples of dried pinto beans, with an average concentration of 509 ppb.


EWG’s benchmark for total glyphosate consumption is 10 micrograms per day.

The benchmark was developed based on a cancer risk assessment for glyphosate and includes an additional tenfold children’s health safety factor.

EWG’s benchmark corresponds to a one-in-one-million cancer risk and is significantly lower than both the EPA's dietary adult exposure limit of 70,000 micrograms per day, for an adult weighing approximately 150 pounds, and California’s No Significant Risk Level of 1,100 micrograms per day.


To translate the total daily amount into the concentration of glyphosate in a ready-to-eat food such as hummus, EWG’s maximum daily amount of 10 micrograms is divided by the approximately 60-gram weight of a four-tablespoon serving. This calculation yields a maximum concentration of approximately 160 ppb, our benchmark. If someone were to eat eight tablespoons of hummus per day, a glyphosate concentration of 80 ppb would reach EWG’s daily limit.


The EPA’s legal standard for glyphosate in chickpeas, known as a tolerance level, is 5,000 ppb, or more than 30 times EWG’s’s benchmark. One sample of non-organic dry chickpeas contained glyphosate at a concentration close to the EPA’s permissive legal standard. A second sample from the same batch of chickpeas was tested, and the average of the two levels remained very close to the EPA standard.

1) Samples of hummus and chickpeas with the highest glyphosate concentrations were store-brand products from Harris Teeter and Whole Foods Market stores. Among different hummus brands, six of nine conventional Sabra samples tested exceeded EWG’s benchmark. Sabra is the leading U.S. hummus brand, with more than half of the hummus market.

One finding was both surprising and alarming. A sample of organic dry chickpeas from Harris Teeter was tested twice, with an average concentration of 17,718 ppb of glyphosate detected in two tests.

2) That average concentration is more than three times the EPA tolerance for glyphosate on conventional chickpeas, and a violation of legal tolerance levels for pesticides on organic foods, which are limited to 5 percent of the allowable tolerance for conventional products.

EWG has reported this product to the National Organic Program of the Department of Agriculture for investigation.


Organic


Other samples of the Harris Teeter organic dry chickpeas had very low levels of glyphosate, just above the lab’s limit of quantification, which was 5 ppb.

In 2016, tests in Canada commissioned by the nonprofit groups Environmental Defence and Equiterre found levels of glyphosate in hummus and canned chickpeas similar to those detected in EWG’s tests.

ln 2018, the nonprofit Moms Across America tested 10 hummus samples, detecting low levels of glyphosate, with the highest concentration of 30 ppb.

In the U.S., chickpeas are grown mostly in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Washington. According to EWG analysis of data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of U.S. acres dedicated to chickpeas more than quadrupled from 2015 to 2018, growing from 200,000 to more than 800,000 acres.

The increase was fueled by soaring consumer demand for hummus, chickpeas and other chickpea-based foods. As Consumer Reports wrote in 2018, hummus sales have grown exponentially, reflecting a trend in “fresh snacking.”

In 2019, hummus sales were about $780 million, according to information compiled by Statista, a market research company.


In 1997, the EPA increased the allowable tolerance for glyphosate in chickpeas from 200 ppb to 5,000 ppb. Although the EPA at first called the increased tolerance an emergency exemption, it was extended in 1998 and has remained in effect. The EPA’s glyphosate tolerance is based on toxicity studies in laboratory animals. It is based on outdated research, does not reflect recent studies, does not consider the carcinogenic activity of glyphosate – despite increased evidence – and does not include an additional tenfold children’s health safety factor.


Glyphosate is used on chickpeas, beans, lentils and peas for weed control and as a pre-harvest drying agent, or desiccant, to facilitate harvesting. Pre-harvest spraying can lead to high levels of glyphosate in the foods sold to consumers.

A recent study in Germany found that individuals who consumed pulses, including lentils and peas, had higher Foto by: ASP Inc - Fotolia levels of glyphosate in their urine than those who did not eat those foods. By law, organic farmers are not allowed to apply glyphosate or other pesticides to grow and harvest crops. A recent study from Montana State University reported that organic chickpea farmers can combat weeds with practices such as shallow tillage and increased seeding rate.


As the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council reported, crops can be dried naturally in the field before harvest.

Although more research is needed, a recent Autralian study reported that farming can be profitable without glyphosate with the use of non-herbicidal weed management combined with targeted herbicide treatment at the beginning of the growing season.



How about Europe?


In 2012 Monsanto asked the European Food Safety Authority, or EFSA, to increase the tolerance for glyphosate on lentils to accommodate the practice of desiccation in the U.S. and Canada. The EU’s current maximum residue level for glyphosate in dry chickpeas is 10,000 ppb, twice the EPA’s legal limit.

Despite the conclusion of the IARC that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, the EFSA has yet to classify it as carcinogenic. In 2016, a group of 94 international scientists published a study criticizing the EFSA decision and calling on the agency to adapt the IARC cancer classification for glyphosate.

When it comes to testing food for glyphosate, the most commonly used pesticide in the U.S., the federal government seems to look the other way.


In 2018, the USDA collected more than 500 chickpea samples for pesticide tests as part of its Pesticide Data Program. However, the program does not include glyphosate testing. Although the FDA has tested some foods for glyphosate, the tests did not include foods known to be sprayed with the chemical. In 2019, EWG petitioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add glyphosate to its national biomonitoring program, a step needed to determine how widespread glyphosate exposure is in Americans.

Like other plant-based sources of protein, hummus and chickpeas, as well as other beans, offer considerable nutritional benefits.

They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, high levels of vitamins A, E, and C, folate, magnesium, iron and potassium, as well as aids to weight control and reduced cholesterol. Beans, peas and legumes are a major source of protein for Hispanic Americans.

Commonly consumed by adults, hummus in snack packs has also become a popular addition to kids’ lunches. Chickpeas are also used as ingredients in baby food, both store-bought and homemade.



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