Kellogg said on its Open For Breakfast website it is working with suppliers to phase out glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weed killer, as a pre-harvest drying agent on wheat and oats by the end of 2025. The cereal maker said it is aware some consumers have questions about its use. Kellogg noted the practice is not widespread in its global supply chains, including the U.S., where using glyphosate for this measure has not been approved. Still, the practice is used by farmers in certain circumstances such as harvesting the crop more quickly if the weather is challenging.
As You Sow took some credit for Kellogg's decision. The consumer advocacy group filed shareholder resolutions in 2017 and 2020 asking the company to eliminate producer application of glyphosate before harvesting grains. Christy Spees, As You Sow's environmental health program manager, said in a release the group was "happy to see Kellogg's leading the industry" and hoped other food producers would do the same.
In a separate announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found there are no unreasonable adverse effects on human health or the environment when glyphosate is used as directed. The agency filed its interim registration review decision Jan. 31. It was published in the Federal Register Feb. 3.
The same week the EPA's decision came out — a review required at least every 15 years to approve glyphosate for continued use — Kellogg tried to allay consumer concerns about potential residues on cereal.
In addition to phasing out pre-harvest glyphosate use on wheat and oats, the maker of Frosted Flakes, Raisin Bran and Froot Loops announced it is working with suppliers to reduce chemicals on crops. A Kellogg spokesperson told Food Navigator the company also plans to expand its grower survey for better data collection on pesticide use and invest in new pesticide reduction aspects to benefit farmers and the environment.
However, Kellogg didn't make much noise about the move, and one grower organization said it wasn't informed about the company's decision, according to The Washington Post. Caitlin Eannello, communications director for the National Association of Wheat Growers, told the newspaper the group was trying to figure out what it means.
"Glyphosate is very safe, and there’s no real alternative. If it were to be totally eradicated, producers would probably stop growing. [Kellogg’s] made an announcement without talking to us," she said. Eannello added that pre-harvest application only occurs on 3% or less of total U.S. wheat acres, and glyphosate kills weeds but isn't absorbed by the wheat plant.
Applauding the decision was Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, which has commissioned lab tests on glyphosate food residues.
"It’s no surprise that consumers don’t want a controversial weedkiller in their cereal. Now it’s time for General Mills and Quaker to listen to their customers and fall in behind Kellogg's leadership and do the same — end this use of this notorious weedkiller," he said in a release.
Residues of the widely used agricultural chemical have reportedly been found in Kellogg's Froot Loops, General Mills' Cheerios and Nature Valley granola bars, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, PepsiCo's Quaker Oats products, Tropicana orange juice and several beer and wine brands. Although detected amounts are typically below the EPA's tolerance levels of 0.1 to 310 parts per million depending on the crop, any trace of glyphosate in foods and beverages is likely to alarm consumers.
People don't want chemical residues in their food, so the more studies and lawsuits that appear about glyphosate, the more they're likely to seek out and purchase "free-from" products that many consider to be healthier. There also are "non-glyphosate" certifications brands can apply and be tested for, and if the levels are found to be low enough, the products can carry the label.
While the EPA's decision may ease worries about glyphosate among consumers and food makers, there's no consensus on its relative safety. The World Health Organization has called glyphosate "probably carcinogen to humans," and California lists it as a chemical "known to the state to cause cancer." Monsanto challenged that listing but lost the fight in 2018 when the California Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal.
Meanwhile, lawsuits against Bayer, which bought Monsanto for about $63 billion in 2018, are piling up, and the German pharmaceutical giant has been hit with huge damage awards over cancer claims. A fourth jury trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 24 in St. Louis, but could be settled for $10 billion, Reuters reported. Bayer denies Roundup or glyphosate causes cancer and has appealed all three prior verdicts.
Given the ongoing controversy, it's smart for Kellogg to phase out glyphosate. It may cost more to find wheat and oats that haven't been sprayed with Roundup, possibly resulting in higher retail prices, but it might be worth it if consumers respond positively and search out glyphosate-free products. Similar to other cereal makers, Kellogg has seen sales slip in recent years, so this move could boost its reputation and encourage other companies to do the same when it comes to glyphosate.