BfR study confirms: no glyphosate detectable in breast milk
A study commissioned by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has confirmed that no residues of the pesticidal active substance glyphosate are detectable in breast milk. The BfR commissioned renowned research laboratories in Europe to develop two independent analytical methods with high sensitivity in order to test 114 breast milk samples from Lower Saxony and Bavaria. "The result shows how important professionally conducted scientific studies are to ensure that consumers are not unnecessarily confused in the emotional debate on pesticide residues", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. In June 2015, the media reported findings of glyphosate in 16 breast milk samples and labelled the measurement results "very concerning". The BfR expressed scientific doubt regarding the reliability of the results and commissioned its own study in order to obtain reproducible and confirmed results. Due to the physico-chemical properties of glyphosate, no relevant transfer of the active substance to breast milk was to be expected. As is the case with cow’s milk, there is no scientific evidence for such a transfer. The BfR and the National Breastfeeding Committee remind consumers that breast milk is still the natural and hence best nutrition for infants. Mothers should not be confused by unfounded claims and should continue to breastfeed as before.
For its study, the BfR commissioned two independent and accredited laboratories with extensive experience in the application of the currently most sensitive analytical detection methods for pesticide residues. In order to be able to clarify any possible positive results reliably, two chemical analytical procedures based on different measurement principles were developed and validated for the detection of glyphosate residues in breast milk.
The two analytical methods are based on liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS). Both procedures have been specially developed and can detect glyphosate residues in breast milk in quantities over 1 nanogram (ng = on billionth of a gram) per millilitre (mL, limit of quantification). This means that the new analytical methods are more than ten times more sensitive than the procedures commonly used for analysing pesticide residue in foods and 75 times more sensitive than the ELISA method (according to information published by the manufacturer). Nevertheless, the latter was used in the analysis of 16 breast milk samples in June 2015, with some media calling the test results “very concerning”. Contents below the limit of quantification of 1 ng per ml would be so low that the resulting intake calculated for infants who are exclusively breastfed would be more than 1000 times lower than what is currently considered safe when ingested daily over a lifetime (acceptable daily intake, ADI).
As expected by the BfR, none of the analysed samples contained residues of the pesticidal active substance glyphosate above the limit of detection. Due to these results, the BfR is confirmed in its opinion that -based on the physico-chemical properties of glyphosate and on data on the toxicokinetics and on metabolism in laboratory and farm animals -no relevant transfer of this active substance to breast milk occurs. These findings have also been incorporated in the EFSA conclusions, which now form the scientific basis for the process for the renewal of the approval for glyphosate at European level.
The results of the study are summarised in a scientific article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (J. Agri. Food Chem., January 25, 2016, just accepted manuscripts, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b05852).
For its studies, the BfR used breast milk samples collected by the Health Office of Lower Saxony and the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority. The participating mothers were not selected by means of random sampling but volunteered for the project. This means that the participants do not constitute a representative sample of breastfeeding mothers in Germany.
In its tests of 16 breast milk samples for glyphosate, as reported by the media in June 2015, the testing laboratory at the time used a so-called ELISA test as its detection method. No details of how this test was conducted were released. The glyphosate concentrations in the samples are said to have ranged between 0.21 und 0.43 ng per mL. This means they were below the limit of quantification indicated by the manufacturer of the ELISA test as reliable (75 ng pro ml) by a factor of 200. In addition, the alleged findings in breast milk were not confirmed by means of an independent analytical method. The BfR therefore expressed scientific doubt as to the reliability of the results and commissioned its own study in order to obtain reproducible and confirmed results.
One important reason for the study was that worried mothers had sent enquiries to the BfR asking about the alleged risks posed by glyphosate residues in breast milk. The BfR and the National Breastfeeding Committee emphasise that they regard the measured concentrations as safe and that breast milk is still the natural and hence best nutrition for infants. The results of the BfR study also confirm that there is no need for mothers to feel insecure and that they should continue to breastfeed as before.
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.