The wheat-based foods industry is no stranger to exaggerated or completely unfounded attacks, but an “urban myth” about the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant for wheat may be the most outrageous ever.
In late 2014, a blogger posted an article blaming the proliferation of digestive diseases in the United States on wheat. Her accusation was neither that the carbohydrates in the wheat nor the gluten caused the problems. Instead, she blamed “standard, recommended wheat harvest protocol to drench the fields with Roundup several days before harvest” to boost yields. She said the practice is “devastating to the health” of consumers who ultimately eat foods made from “wheat kernels that have absorbed a significant amount of Roundup.”
Every substantive aspect of the blogger’s allegations has been debunked as fiction, from sources ranging from the National Association of Wheat Growers to Snopes.com, which evaluates Internet rumors. Still, the issue has generated considerable and growing media attention. Roundup is used by a minority of wheat growers, most often at planting, just before wheat emergence. The herbicide is used much more heavily for corn and soybeans, which have been bioengineered to tolerate the chemical. That wheat could be caught up in a nonsensical Roundup controversy is a painful reminder of the extreme underlying sensitivity to issues surrounding the nation’s largest food grain.