Science trumps hysteria when it comes to breast milk and pesticides

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The scientific literature has established that, when possible, breast milk offers terrific advantages to children, so it was the perfect way for anti-science groups to promote fear and doubt about a commonly used pesticide called glyphosate, which has been used by home gardeners for decades under the name Roundup.

Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has never found reason for concern, in 2014 an advocacy group called Moms Across America called into question the safety and healthfulness of breast milk. It had pesticides in it, they claimed.

Though the study was dismissed by credible scientists due to its shoddy methodology, it was sensationalized by anti-science groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and sympathetic mainstream media outlets. For that reason, a team of scientists, including an executive committee member for the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation and a national spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition, tested women in various parts of the United States and in Russia, tried to replicate the provocative claims.

Are you terrified? That was the plan of groups who use scare tactics about modern food to raise money. Credit: Credit: 'Evidence that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is not present in human milk', Michelle K McGuire, Kimberly Lackey, Janae Carrothers, Bahman Shafii, William Price, and Mark A McGuire at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Conference

Even with women living on or next to farms and handling glyphosate, urinary glyphosate levels and tests for metabolites were either non-existent or so low they could only be detected with the kinds of tests that make it possible to find anything anywhere. Even when women had detectable amounts of glyphosate in urine, there was neither glyphosate nor any glyphosate metabolites in any milk sample. Analyses of the milk samples were independently verified at Wisconsin-based Covance Laboratories, which is not affiliated with any of the study authors.

What did scientists do right that activists got wrong? They used the correct test, high sensitivity liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry methods specifically optimized for the task rather than using a methodology (using a test for water) that was certain to generate incorrect results.