Glyphosate residues in honey – a concern for consumer health?
In the EU, glyphosate is mainly applied to control weeds during pre-planting or pre-emergence- it is not applied during the flowering of crops when bees pollinate, nor is it typically used to control flowering weeds.
Glyphosate is acting by penetrating through the green leaves of weeds and therefore, it should be applied by targeted spraying only on the weeds that need to be controlled.
These practices offer opportunities for continuously reducing the applied amounts of glyphosate by mapping the weeds and spraying glyphosate based products only on those parts of the field or orchard where it is needed to control undesired vegetation.
As a result of these practices, the exposure of honeybee colonies to residues of glyphosate in nectar and pollen is usually limited, and significant residues of glyphosate are rarely found in honey.
To monitor these residues, MRLs* are defined for glyphosate residues in honey (as it is the case for each active ingredient and each type of food) to ensure that it is applied correctly, ensuring safety for human health and the environment.
Prior to entry into force of DG SANTE (European Commission) Guidelines on the setting of MRLs in honey (i.e., before 01 January 2020), a honey MRL was established based on specific experimental data, only for a few active substances of crop protection products. For other substances (including glyphosate), MRLs were set at a default of 0.05 mg/kg, as a pragmatic but conservative default MRL.
However, based on the new DG SANTE Guidelines for setting MRLs in honey, a guideline-compliant study was conducted with glyphosate. The study and the official monitoring data of glyphosate in honey were submitted to regulatory authorities as part of the glyphosate renewal dossier to allow a more realistic MRL in honey to be established.
In previous years, glyphosate residues in honey above the default MRL of 0.05 mg/kg were found in some cases only (~ 3% of the investigated samples). In all cases where residues exceeded the MRL, they were more than an order of magnitude below concentrations which could be considered a concern for consumer health. Likewise, glyphosate residue levels found in honey were not detrimental to the health of honey bee colonies.
* The Maximum Residue Level (MRL) is the highest level of pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in or on food or feed.