- Glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer by California state scientists and the World Health Organization, was found in 43 out of 45 samples of breakfast food products marketed to children made with conventionally grown oats, according to independent laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group.
- About one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats also had glyphosate. Thirty-one out of 45 samples had glyphosate levels higher than EWG scientists' health benchmark (160 ppb).
- Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the Monsanto weed killer that is the most heavily used pesticide in the United States. Monsanto recently merged with Bayer. Last week, a California jury ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages to a man dying of cancer, which he says was caused by his repeated exposure to large quantities of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers while working as a school groundskeeper.
In the face of growing consumer demand for free-from, healthy, humanely-treated food, companies whose products have been found to contain traces of glyphosate are in hot water — even without consensus about the effects of the chemical.
For its new report, the EWG conducted toxicology tests on dozens of oat-based foods sold across the country and used a health benchmark for glyphosate based on a cancer risk assessment developed by California state scientists. However, for their findings, the group set a safety guideline of 0.01 milligram per day. That is more than 100 times less than California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which currently sets the level of glyphosate intake posing no significant health risks at 1.1 milligrams per day for an average adult.
California's safety level is much lower than the one set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has said glyphosate does not cause cancer.
Monsanto also disputes the cancer-causing claim, saying in a statement, "glyphosate does not cause cancer" and "has a more than 40-year history of safe use." The company referenced the study directly, saying that "even at the highest level reported… an adult would have to eat 118 pounds of the food item every day for the rest of their life in order to reach the EPA's limit."
Still, the World Health Organization says glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen," and California lists it as a chemical "known to the state to cause cancer." Last week in California, a jury ordered the company behind the weed killer to pay one man $289 million in damages after he claimed the company's weed killers caused his cancer.
Regardless of the scale used, the trace amounts of the chemical found in the oat-based products may not harm a full-grown adult who consumes these foods on occasion. However, trends indicate that households with more vulnerable children and elderly members are far more likely to consume cereal.
PepsiCo-owned Quaker responded that it works hard to cleanse the oats it uses in its products through processing.
“Quaker does not add glyphosate during any part of the milling process," the company said in a statement, which was quoted by CNN. "... Any levels of glyphosate that may remain are significantly below any limits and well within compliance of the safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Commission as safe for human consumption."
Cereal isn't the only product to have recently been tarnished by glyphosate residue, which is a constant issue for CPG companies. Last year, the Organic Consumers Association said it found the chemical in Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The company responded that it would work to determine the origin of the residue. General Mills fought — and won — a labeling lawsuit about glyphosate. Last year, a federal judge threw out a class action suit in which consumers said that the company's Nature Valley granola bars could not be labeled "natural" because of glyphosate residue.
While ice cream and granola bar sales don't appear to have suffered from the glyphosate reports, it remains unknown if this study will make an impact on bottom lines. Still, companies whose products that aren’t touched by glyphosate could take advantage of a potential "pesticide-free" marketing push — maybe even pursuing a glyphosate-free certification.
It would behoove those companies whose products do show traces of this glyphosate to work toward cleaning up their products and finding less controversial alternatives to the chemical. In this case, being proactive may spare them the trouble of lawsuits and damaged reputations down the line.