Feb. 25, 2019 -- The next time you enjoy a glass of wine or a mug of beer, chances are you’re also drinking pesticide.
All but one of 20 alcoholic beverages analyzed in a recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) had detectable levels of the pesticide glyphosate, says Kara Cook, the author of the study and PIRG's toxics program director. The pesticide is best known as the key ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup.
"The levels we found are not in themselves dangerous," Cook says. "They are well below the EPA tolerance levels. I wouldn't tell somebody, 'Don't drink beer or wine.' ''
The pesticide is also found in many foods, used in gardens, and present in rainwater, Cook says. "What we don't know is what the cumulative effect of all these exposures are over a lifetime."
Cook says they are trying to raise awareness among consumers. The report concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency should ban glyphosate ''unless and until it can be proven safe," due to what the group says is more evidence that it causes cancer. Residues may show up in beer if the pesticide is used on barley, for instance, and in wine if growers spray the weeds near grapevines.
The group issued the report, "Bottoms Up: Glyphosate pesticide in beer and wine," today.
William Reeves, PhD, a toxicologist for Bayer, which owns Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, takes exception to the report's findings and recommendations. In a statement, he says the PIRG “is publicizing misleading information about pesticide residues in food."
Reeves takes issue with some of the research, including the method the researchers used to measure the levels of pesticide in the beverages, which he says is not acceptable for use with any source other than water.
He says a 125-pound person would need to drink a large amount of wine a day for life to reach the EPA tolerable limit for people.
Evaluating the Samples
For the report, the PIRG researchers tested five wines, 14 beers, and one hard cider for the presence of glyphosate. The amount detected ranged from a high of 51 parts per billion (ppb) in a Sutter Home wine to no detectable levels in Peak Organic IPA beer.
To put those numbers in perspective, the EPA sets allowable glyphosate residues on more than 150 different food and feed crops (but not a limit on beer or wine), and it ranges from 0.2 to 400 ppm -- or 200 to 400,000 ppb.
In a statement, the Wine Institute, an advocacy group for the California wine industry, says the study included just five wines, and ''the study acknowledges that the amounts [of pesticide] found are low."
The Beer Institute, a national trade association, said in a statement that: "Our members work with farmers who go to great lengths to raise their crops sustainably and safely. The federal government tests a variety of commodities for glyphosate regularly, and the results of the most recent federal testing showed farmers' use of glyphosate falls well below federal limits.”
From highest to lowest levels of the pesticide, here is how the samples fared:
- Sutter Home Merlot (2018), U.S. vineyard, 4-pack, 187-ml bottles, 51.4 ppb
- Beringer's Founders’ Estate Moscato (2018), U.S. vineyard, 750-ml bottles, 42.6 ppb
- Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon (2018), U.S. vineyard, 4-pack, 187-ml bottles, 36.3 ppb
- Inkarri Malbec: Certified Organic (2016), Argentina, 750-ml bottles, 5.3 ppb
- Frey Organic Natural (2017), U.S. vineyard, 750-ml bottles, 4.8 ppb
Beers & Hard Ciders:
- Tsingtao Beer (2017), Chinese beer, 4-pack, 640-ml (21.6-oz) bottles, 49.7 ppb
- Coors Light (2018), U.S. beer, 6-pack, 500-ml (16.9-oz) cans, 31.1 ppb
- Miller Lite (2018), U.S. beer, 6-pack, 375-ml (12.7-oz) bottles, 29.8 ppb
- Budweiser (2018), U.S. beer, 6-pack, 440-ml (14.88-oz) bottles, 27 ppb.
- Corona Extra (2017), Mexican beer, 6-pack, 355-ml (12-oz) bottles, 25.1 ppb
- Heineken (2018), Dutch beer, 6-pack, 355-ml (12-oz) bottles, 20.9 ppb
- Guinness Draught (2018), Irish beer, 4-pack, 440-ml (14.88-oz) bottles, 20.3 ppb
- Stella Artois (2017), Belgian beer, 6-pack, 355-ml (12-oz) bottles, 18.7 ppb
- Ace Perry Hard Cider (2018), U.S. cider, 6-pack, 650-ml (22-oz) bottles, 14.5 ppb
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (2018), U.S. beer, 6-pack, 350-ml (11.83-oz) cans, 11.8 ppb
- New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale (2018), U.S. beer, 6-pack, 350-ml (11.83-oz) bottles, 11.2 ppb
- Sam Adams New England IPA (2018), U.S. beer, 4-pack, 475-ml (16-oz) cans, 11 ppb
- Stella Artois Cidre (2018), Belgian cider, 6-pack, 355-ml (12-oz) bottles, 9.1 ppb
- Samuel Smith's Organic Lager (2017), U.K. beer, 550-ml (18.6-oz) bottle, 5.7 ppb
- Peak Organic IPA (2018), U.S. beer, 350-ml (11.83-oz) bottle, no detected level
One surprise, Cook says, is that even though weedkillers aren’t allowed to be used when making organic beers and wines, their testing found the pesticide in three of the four organic beverages analyzed.
Does Glyphosate Cause Cancer?
On its webpage, the EPA says that glyphosate products can be safely used if label directions are followed and that it has ''low toxicity for humans."
Some research by the World Health Organization linked glyphosate with cancer, but another report did not, Cook notes in the report.
In recent years, some communities have banned its use. And in 2018, a jury in California ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a groundskeeper who says the pesticide caused his cancer.
This report comes on the same day a San Francisco court begins hearing arguments in the first federal civil case over whether Roundup weedkiller causes cancer.