The seeds for the world’s largest pea-protein manufacturing facility were metaphorically planted in early 2017, when Roquette, a French-based global food ingredient company, announced plans to build the plant in the heart of Canada’s prairies, in the province of Manitoba.
Interest in plant-based proteins has sprouted in recent years. According to IFT.org, statistics from the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) reveals that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 11.4% in 2019. The total plant-based market value is in excess of $5 billion. Because of how easy it is to digest, pea protein is one of the most popular types of plant-based protein, forming the basis of vegan burgers and protein powders.
Roquette’s pea protein plant (the facility that is) measures 200,000 square feet, according to RealAgriculture.com, and anticipates operating at full capacity by early next year.
One of the main criteria for pea harvesters that will supply Roquette is that they may not use glyphosate during the pre-harvest interval. Glyphosate is the main active herbicidal ingredient in the Monsanto Company’s line of RoundUp weed and grass killer products. Monsanto is now owned by Bayer, which inherited Monsanto’s legal troubles over Roundup when the German drug giant purchased the crop sciences company in 2018 for $63 billion. Over 125,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Bayer/Monsanto, alleging that RoundUp products caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the lymph nodes.
While glyphosate is the main active ingredient in RoundUp, there are other inert ingredients called adjuvants, which are included in the formula to make glyphosate more effective in killing unwanted vegetation.
Like other conventionally-grown crops, peas contain trace amounts of glyphosate residue after they are harvested. Although organic, non-genetically-modified crops most often contain less glyphosate residue, the organic and non-GMO labels do not imply that glyphosate is absent; washing organic produce is recommended.
According to Axiom Foods, which supplies whole grain brown rice for different food brands, the EPA’s limit for glyphosate residue on dried field peas—the kind used to make pea protein—is 8 ppm (parts per million).
A couple of years ago, The Detox Project launched a glyphosate-free certification, which several brands now carry, including Thrive Market. How much is 8 ppm that’s allowed in pea protein? Is that a small or large amount, relatively speaking.
To receive the Detox Project’s glyphosate-free certification, a food product has to test, in laboratories, at the bottom limit of detection for glyphosate, which is 10 parts per billion.
Thus, even if an organic pea protein powder brand does not carry the glyphosate-free designation (the certification costs approximately $1,500 per year), glyphosate shouldn’t be much of a concern.
If you’re looking to keep your glyphosate residue load in your body low, avoid foods with conventionally-grown and GMO-derived corn, soy, cotton, beans, wheat, oats, and, yes, peas.
According to RealAgriculture.com, however, Roquette’s peas will not be entirely free of chemicals. Both diquat (Reglone) and saflufenacil (Heat) are approved for pre-harvest use in 2021. The EPA says that diquat, a herbicide that also kills algae, is “of moderate acute toxicity causing acute dermal toxicity and primary eye irritation, and is classified as a Group E carcinogen, indicating that it poses no known cancer risk for humans.”