Disturbing Levels of Chemicals and Gluten Found in Gluten-Free Foods

A Moms Across America investigation found high levels of the active ingredient in Roundup, a chemical in Agent Orange, and gluten in several food products labeled "gluten-free."

Celiac disease is a digestive and immune system disorder that impacts around 2 million people in the United States. People with this condition experience severe digestive issues and intestinal damage when they consume gluten, a protein found in wheat. Individuals with gluten sensitivity can have symptoms similar to celiac disease but may not experience damage to the intestines.

While people with celiac and gluten sensitivity must avoid gluten at all costs, some folks without these disorders also choose to follow a gluten-free (GF) diet to reduce inflammation, manage irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or improve symptoms from other health conditions.

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Fortunately, retail and online stores carry a wide variety of organic and conventional GF foods, giving people many options to choose from.

However, just because it says gluten-free doesn't mean it's healthy, as some products are highly processed and contain excess sugar, fat, and sodium.

What's more, according to a new report by Moms Across America, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, testing showed that some gluten-free foods contain concerning levels of glyphosate, AKA Roundup, and other potentially harmful chemicals.

Moreover, tests revealed that some products had gluten levels higher than U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations allow.

Gluten-free but not chemical-free

Moms Across America speculated that gluten-free foods might not be as clean as people think after supporters reported experiencing ongoing health issues even after following a GF diet.

To investigate this further, the organization tested 46 samples of organic and non-organic gluten-free foods for herbicides, 236 pesticides, gluten, and minerals. The tests were conducted by Health Research Institute Laboratories.

The results showed that 44 out of 46 samples contained glyphosate — a herbicide linked to neurobehavioral issues in children. Moreover, tests revealed that not all organic, gluten-free products were free of glyphosate.
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The gluten-free product with the highest glyphosate level was Banza Chickpea pasta. Mothers Across America says testing showed the product contained the herbicide at 2,963 ppb — "the highest amount of glyphosate in human food the lab has recorded."

However, two products — Lesser Evil Popcorn and Edward and Sons Rice Crackers — had no detectable levels of the herbicide.

According to Moms Across America, the five products with the highest glyphosate levels were:

  • Banza Cavatappi pasta
  • Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour
  • Flax4Life chocolate brownies
  • Pamela's Figgies and Jammies mission fig cookies
  • Kind Kids Chewy Chocolate Chip bars

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" based on limited evidence in humans and sufficient evidence in animal studies.

However, in 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reassessed scientific findings regarding the herbicide and found that it is unlikely to cause cancer and its use poses no risks to human health.

In addition to glyphosate, the next most prevalent chemical in food samples tested was 2,4-D, a chemical found in Agent Orange — which was used in the Vietnam War and is linked to a range of health conditions. Lab tests showed that 54% of gluten-free food samples had trace or quantifiable levels of 2,4-D.

Moreover, products with the highest pesticide levels—primarily residues from piperonyl butoxide (PBO)—were King Arthur's Gluten-Free Flour (147 ppb) and Milton's Sea Salt Crackers (75 ppb).

Other products with high pesticide levels were Simple Mills Brownie mix, Pamela's gluten-free flour mix, and Go Macro berry granola bar.

Do gluten-free foods actually contain gluten?

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The FDA requires that food labeled "gluten-free" must contain 20 ppm or less of gluten. Moreover, the Gluten-Free Certification Organization's (GFCO) threshold for gluten in certified GF foods is 10 ppm, much lower than limits set by the FDA and World Health Organization (WHO).

However, Mom's Across America's gluten analysis showed that three out of 46 samples had gluten levels above 20 ppm. These include Simple Mills Brownie mix (31.7), Made Good Soft Baked Double Chocolate cookies (56.1), and Simple Mills almond flour crackers (59.4).

In light of the results, Moms Across America reported the products to the FDA, urging the agency to recall them immediately.

Moreover, products with gluten levels above 10 ppm but below 20 ppm include Jovial spaghetti (10.6), GoMacro berry granola bar (15.9), and Shar pretzels (14.3).

While testing showed elevated levels of pesticides, herbicides, and gluten in some gluten-free products, investigators found the opposite regarding minerals. According to the report, further tests revealed extremely low levels of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and iron, in virtually all samples.

Gluten-free food producers not at fault

Though testing revealed the presence of glyphosate, 2,4-D, and pesticides in GF foods, Moms Across America says it doesn't believe food manufacturers are adding these compounds deliberately. Instead, the nonprofit says it's challenging for food producers to locate ingredients without these chemicals because of their widespread use on crops — something the U.S. government allows.

However, according to the nonprofit, the bottom line is that despite the challenges, some of these products contain gluten or are contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals, and the health implications for consumers are unacceptable.

"The prevalence of glyphosate and agrochemicals in our food supply, even in organic and even in foods made for people with American Disability Act (ADA) recognized disability, such as Celiac disease, is disturbing for many reasons," said Moms Across America director Zen Honeycutt, in the report. "This contamination is avoidable. As the EU has done, all our policymakers need to do is disallow the spraying of glyphosate and other agrochemicals as a drying agent on crops."

Honeycutt suggests that if policymakers ban glyphosate spraying on crops, 80% of the public's exposure to the chemical through food would be eliminated.

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