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This article makes the claim that:

Standard wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as withered, dead wheat plants are less taxing on the farm equipment and allows[sic] for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest

The article speaks in broad generalizations, and uses scary but vague phrases like "standard protocol" and "drench" to support its claims. To what extent, if any, is the claim true that roundup is applied to non-GMO crops (specifically wheat) shortly before harvest? And for bonus points, if this is common in the US, is it uncommon elsewhere (as implied by the claim)?

  • It's pretty well 'stated' in the claim: "Emails from folks with allergic or digestive issues to wheat in the United States experienced no symptoms whatsoever when they tried eating pasta on vacation in Italy." – ChrisW Nov 16 '14 at 2:33
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    @ChrisW: I'm not sure what you're getting at. – Flimzy Nov 16 '14 at 3:23
  • Just that your OP ends with "as implied by the claim" -- I was agreeing emphatically, IMO it's not just "implied" by the claim, it is virtually "stated" by the claim, e.g. that it doesn't happen in Italy. – ChrisW Nov 16 '14 at 13:53
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    There's an app for that: itunes.apple.com/ca/app/preharvest-staging-guide/… – Dave Nov 17 '14 at 0:25
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    Snopes have weighed in for anyone who wants to incorporate that into an answer. – Oddthinking Nov 17 '14 at 14:04
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This is actually true, dessication with glyphosate seems to be an established practice. From the Glyphosate Task Force:

In the joint dossier submitted by the Glyphosate Task Force (GTF) for the renewal of approval of glyphosate in the EU, pre-harvest application of glyphosate (both for weed control and harvest aid) was included amongst the representative uses of the herbicide for which the GTF wishes to obtain renewed approval. A full risk assessment submitted with the dossier shows no concerns for consumers (dietary), operators or the environment for pre-harvest uses.

The part about farm equipment is true as well:

The presence of green crop materials can make harvesting difficult by putting an extra strain on farm machinery, resulting in increased fuel and labour costs. In addition, high moisture content in grains can lead to problems when storing the harvest including mould growth and condensation.

Austria has banned the practice:

Under the provisions of its national plant protection legislation, the Austrian Parliament voted on July 5th 2013 to ban the use of glyphosate-based herbicides as a pre-harvest maturation tool for crops used in food and feed.

The Glyphosate Task Force is obviously not an impartial group, it is composed of companies that produce or sell glyphosate like Monsanto.

They cite a report by EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority that shows that the maximum residue levels for glyphosate were not exceeded.

The practice of applying glyphosate before the harvest exists, but that does not necessarily mean that the conclusions from that in the linked article are true.

4

Here's a news story about pre harvest application of glyphosate on (non-GMO) sunflowers. Thus it's been done in a commercial setting in the USA at least once.

I've been able to find many university agricultural extension notices, like this one on pre-harvest application of herbicides in 2014 this one reminding people not to use herbicides on seed crops, and this one that directly mentions wheat which are consistent with the idea that this is relatively normal practice, at least in some areas (northern plains seems prevalent) and under some weather conditions. However, I have not been able to find any reliable information on the overall prevalence of this practice in the USA or elsewhere.

The (Canadian) Monsanto Pre-Harvest Staging Guide (yes, theres an app for that!) includes wheat, along with 8 other crops. Note that this includes instructions for application to non-GMO crops as well as a minor reference to some RoundupReady ones. As of 2014, GMO (RoundupReady) wheat is not used commercially in the USA; thus any commercial application on wheat is non-GMO.

As far as Europe goes, it seems that this practice is performed in the UK, resulting in about 10% of bread samples having detectable glyphosate residues (at levels below the maximum allowed by regulation). Fabian's answer indicates that Austria has taken a different route.

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