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Glyphosate in the urine: even for children, the detected values are within the expected range, without any adverse health effects

11/2016, 04.03.2016

Significance of the so-called urinal study limited due to non-scientific sampling and statistical flaws

In the view of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the glyphosate levels in urine presented at the Heinrich Böll Foundation on 4 March 2016 are safe in terms of their health effects for both children and adults. "In our opinion, these very low levels are to be expected, since glyphosate is an approved active substance contained in plant protection products, meaning that residues could be expected to be ingested with the food and hence excreted", BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel commented on the published results of the study. "The BfR has scientifically assessed comparable urine values in the past and published the results." If the daily glyphosate intake is calculated from the urine values detected, it becomes clear that the test person with the highest glyphosate level of roughly 4 ng per ml of urine had ingested less than one hundredth of the acceptable daily intake of 0.5 mg per kilogramme of bodyweight. The data thus confirm the intake levels put forward by the BfR in its residue assessment conducted as part of the EU active substance evaluation.

Commissioned following a citizens’ initiative, the study has major flaws, especially in terms of sampling. The samples were not taken, as is standard practice in scientific studies, under surveillance and then sent to a laboratory deep frozen. This can lead to contamination and changes in the composition of the samples, for example during transportation.

Overall, those commissioning the study had over 2000 non-representative samples from volunteers collected and analysed. The urine samples were tested using a biological standard test which is suitable for analysing urine. However, sampling was not done in compliance with procedures usually followed in scientific studies. Instead, the study participants put their urine in test tubes that had been sent out for this purpose. The tubes were then sent to the analytical laboratory along with a completed questionnaire. Ordinary mail was used, and the samples were not chilled. The median content detected during the analysis of the samples was 1.08 ng of glyphosate per ml of urine, whereas the highest level was 4.2 ng of glyphosate per ml of urine. If the highest level is converted into the quantity ingested on a daily basis, it amounts to less than one percent of the acceptable daily intake. Even in children, this highest content would make up less than one per cent of the acceptable daily intake.

Despite the flaws in the study, the BfR sees this empirical data as confirmation of its view that even for the most sensitive segment of the population, i.e. children, no adverse health effects are to be expected from glyphosate residues ingested with food. In addition, the implied connection between glyphosate exposure and certain diseases of the test persons is scientifically not comprehensible. The established daily intake levels are far below the derived health-based reference values (ADI and ARfD) for glyphosate. Thus, the study does not provide new information regarding the estimation of the health risks associated with glyphosate exposure of people living in Germany.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.