Patients concerned about glyphosate contamination can now check their food and water for traces of the toxic weed killer with a new home test kit.
The GlyphoCheck Home Test for Glyphosate in Food and Water, manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Abraxis Inc., is the first-ever commercially available dip-strip test for detecting glyphosate in a home setting. Fast and affordable, it allows users to identify the presence of glyphosate residues in a wide variety of foods and beverages.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in herbicides like Monsanto's Roundup products, has also been in wide use since the 1970s. Agricultural applications of glyphosate-containing herbicides have surged worldwide in recent years. Mounting evidence links glyphosate exposure to a range of health challenges, from cancer and chronic inflammation to antibiotic resistance and environmental destruction.
The GlyphoCheck test kit contains lateral flow strips––also called immunostrips––designed to quickly detect the presence or absence of a particular substance. Most people are familiar with this technology in the form of home pregnancy tests.
Lateral Flow Dipsticks
GlyphoCheck strips can be used to test water, whole oats, wheat, corn, soybeans, beer, and infant foods. Most recently, wine was also added to the list of testable foods and beverages. The test's makers expect to incorporate additional foods and beverages as they are validated.
While pregnancy dipstick tests have existed for decades, lateral flow technology for pesticide testing is fairly new. It only developed within the last few years. It is similar to pregnancy strip testing, but more complex. The test identifies parts-per-billion levels of a specific substance––in this case, glyphosate. The test strips are marked by lines indicating the presence of low, mid, or high ranges of glyphosate in the foods or drinks being tested.
Henry Rowlands, director of consumer advocacy group The Detox Project––a research and certification platform that encourages transparency around toxic chemical use in the food and supplement industries––explained that the new GlyphoCheck test has been validated by a third party after being tested against liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS), the current gold standard for pesticide detection.
Rowlands' organization is the exclusive promoter of the new glyphosate test kits. Abraxis does not sell the tests directly, so physicians or patients interested in the kits can order them through the Detox Project website. The kits are available in either 2-test ($79.99) or 5-test ($199.99) packages, which the manufacturer ships directly to recipients. All food and water sample testing is then completed in the home.
"Glyphosate is one of the most difficult molecules of any pesticide for testing," Rowlands said, noting that prepping samples to check for its presence takes a bit more time and effort than something like a pregnancy test. Nevertheless, users generally see results within an hour of completing sample preparations.
The Glyphosate Dilemma
One reason it's tough to test for glyphosate––and therefore rarely done––is that it is a very complex molecule.
Most pesticides and herbicides have molecular structures that are relatively easy to identify with laboratory testing. Glyphosate is different: it is not only small in size, but also very similar to a number of other molecules. Especially at low levels, Rowlands said, glyphosate is easily confused with other substances, from protein molecules to other chemicals present in our environment.
"Glyphosate has always been a dilemma in the testing world." Because identifying it accurately is challenging, glyphosate is "not tested in the pesticide screens in laboratories––it has to be tested separately," Rowlands explained.
Developing the technology to create and manufacture glyphosate home tests was a difficult process, which is why despite decades of media attention to the issue of glyphosate exposure, there has never before been an easy-to-use detection test. Until the emergence of GlyphoCheck, the only way to test for glyphosate was by engaging a specialty testing lab. That is an expensive proposition.
General screens that test at once for a host of over 400 different pesticides often run in the $200–300 range, where a test for glyphosate alone can cost around $1,000.
Rowlands pointed out that, "even the FDA and other government agencies have used the difficulty of glyphosate testing as a reason why they don't test it." With the availability of more affordable strip tests, the cost factor is "no longer an excuse."
"Enabling home testing will hopefully take some of the difficulty out of the process."
Hair Testing: A Useful Breakthrough
At present, the new home test kit is being used primarily by concerned citizens. Growing media attention surrounding the myriad personal and environmental health effects associated with glyphosate––the world's most ubiquitous home and agricultural herbicide––has sparked interest among people eager to better understand what's in their foods and beverages.
Glyphosate strip tests offer a great source of information on short-term exposure to the herbicide, but they do not offer much insight into the long-term consequences of ongoing contamination.
From a medical point of view, Rowlands suggested, physicians need to know what happens following long-term exposure to chemicals like glyphosate. Responding to this need, The Detox Project is now working on further developments in the pesticide testing field.
Those developments include what Rowlands calls the "most useful pesticide testing breakthrough we've seen in the last decade": hair testing for glyphosate and other bug killers.
Urine and blood tests for glyphosate have been around for a number of years––but like the strip tests, these methods only reflect short-term pesticide /herbicide exposure. For example, blood tests only show glyphosate exposure that occurred in the 2–3 days prior to testing. Urine tests indicate exposure over the previous 2 to 3 weeks. Such tests might tell an individual, for instance, if a food she ate yesterday contained glyphosate, or if she was exposed to pesticides a neighbor sprayed in his garden last week.
Validated hair testing, on the other hand––which has never before been used for measuring pesticides––makes it possible to examine the longer-term impact of pesticide exposure over a period of 90–120 days.
"Hair testing has been used in forensic science and drug testing for ages," Rowlands indicated. "I'm not sure why government regulators and independent science groups haven't worked on hair testing for pesticides much more strongly in the past.
"It's a no-brainer to have proper data rather than short-term data, which isn't really that useful," he added.
Many clinicians, particularly in the integrative health arena, regularly use hair and other testings to check patients' heavy metal levels. Because pesticides have a different––and lesser understood––effect on health, physician-collected data will become a vital source of information, filling in the gaps in our current knowledge of the health effects of pesticides, Rowlands predicts.
The new glyphosate hair tests just became available to the public about a month ago, and Rowlands expects that the data they generate "will inform how we regulate pesticides in the future."
The use of agricultural glyphosate is prohibited under organic certification standards, so patients aiming to avoid this herbicide should seek out certified organic foods and beverages. In addition, the Detox Project launched a new glyphosate residue-free certification in August 2017.
To be certified Glyphosate Residue Free, manufacturers must verify through a third party ISO 17025 accredited laboratory that their products do not contain glyphosate, as measured according to FDA-determined limits of detection for food items, generally set around 10 ppb.
Last year, honey and confectionery producer Heavenly Organics was among the earliest brands to receive the new glyphosate-free certification.
Rowlands hopes that additional health-conscious manufacturers will follow suit in the near future.