Traces of weed killer found in beers, including Stella, Heineken and Budweiser

By Robert Mann

- Last updated on GMT

Chemical problem: several popular beers and wines have been claimed to contain traces of a weed killer
Chemical problem: several popular beers and wines have been claimed to contain traces of a weed killer

Related tags Beer

Traces of a commonly used weed killer have been detected in many well-known beers, according to a new report.

It’s not an ingredient you’ll find on the label, but traces of a substance commonly used in weed killer, has been found in several leading beer and wine brands, including Stella Artois, Heineken, Budweiser, Coors Light and Beringer.

According to American researchers, five wines and 15 beers tested from the US, Asia and Europe, contained traces of the pesticide glyphosate.

The chemical, used widely on UK farms, is the most common herbicide in the world and a core ingredient used in the weed killer Roundup.

Also, research revealed particles of the chemical were also found in products labelled as organic.

Glyphosate is not permitted or used in organic farming, however, several types of organic products were contaminated, with three or four beers and wines tested containing the substance.

Cause for concern

The US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), which conducted the study, said the levels of the pesticide aren’t necessarily dangerous, but labelled the findings a “cause for concern”.

“When you’re having a beer or glass of wine, the last thing you want to think about is that it includes a potentially dangerous pesticide,” author of the study Kara Cook-Shultz revealed.

“No matter the efforts of brewers and vintners, we found that it is incredibly difficult to avoid the troubling reality that consumers will likely drink glyphosate at every happy hour and backyard barbecue around the country.”

While the widespread presence of glyphosate in so many popular brands may be alarming, an adult would need to drink 140 glasses of wine a day, containing the highest glyphosate level measured, just to reach the level identified as “no significant risk level”, a spokesperson for the Wine Institute explained.

Arguing against the findings, a spokesperson for the Brewers Association, which represents more than 4,900 small and independent US craft brewers, added its views on the study.

“Brewers do not want glyphosate used on barley or any raw brewing material, and the barley grower organisations have also come out strongly against glyphosate,” they added.

Brewing giants Heineken and Budweiser Brewing Group, which makes beer including Stella Artois and Budweiser, were approached for comment by The Morning Advertiser ​but had not responded by the time of publication.

Defending brewing companies was Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, who argues that glyphosate in beer is "well within" the legal limits set in Europe.

"Brewing companies regularly monitor for glyphosate residues," Simmonds explained.

"The residue levels reported in studies in the past – and regular monitoring of cereals, such as wheat and barley – indicate that residues of glyphosate in beer are well within the legal limits set for cereals in the EU."

Cancer claims

In Britain, 5.4m acres of land are treated with the pesticide every year, and previous studies have linked its use to the decline in bee numbers.

In the face of claims and counter-claims between the PIRG and representatives of the beer and wine industries, the big question remains: does glyphosate cause cancer?

William Reeves, a toxicologist for pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which now owns Roundup manufacturer Monsanto, accused PIRG of blowing the results out of proportion.

In a landmark case, Monsanto was found by a jury in California to know its weedkiller brand was dangerous, through having to pay $289m (£218m) to a cancer victim. 

Bayer is currently facing some 9,300 lawsuits alleging that its popular glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup causes cancer.

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