Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?

glyphosate in breakfast foods

Story at-a-glance -

  • Forty-three out of 45 food products made with conventionally grown oats tested positive for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide
  • Thirty-one of them had glyphosate levels higher than EWG scientists believe would be protective of children’s health
  • Examples of foods with detectable levels of glyphosate include Quaker Dinosaur Eggs instant oatmeal, Cheerios cereal, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker steel cut oats and Back to Nature Classic Granola
  • Out of 16 organic oat foods tested, five contained glyphosate
  • Choosing organic, nongenetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a good way to reduce your exposure to glyphosate, but it isn’t foolproof because the chemical is also used as a desiccant on many non-GMO crops

By Dr. Mercola

In August 2018, jurors ruled Monsanto (which was taken over by Bayer in June 2018) must pay $289 million in damages to DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who claimed the company’s herbicide Roundup caused his terminal cancer. The jury agreed, awarding Johnson not only in the form of monetary justice but also collaborating claims that Monsanto knew for decades that Roundup was dangerous — and acted with “malice or oppression” to cover up its risks.1

Thousands of people across the U.S. have now filed lawsuits alleging that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and others containing the active ingredient glyphosate, caused them to develop cancer. This same chemical is the most widely used pesticide in the U.S., and it’s now showing up in the food supply at potentially unsafe levels — and in common foods many Americans consume daily for breakfast and snacks, like cereal and granola bars.

Weed Killer Detected in Nearly All Food Samples Tested

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned independent laboratory tests to determine how much glyphosate is lurking in the U.S. food supply. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing foods for glyphosate, and tests reportedly revealed “a fair amount” of residues, their findings have not yet been made public.2 EWG’s testing revealed, however, that 43 out of 45 food products made with conventionally grown oats tested positive for glyphosate, 31 of which had glyphosate levels higher than EWG scientists believe would be protective of children’s health.

Examples of foods with detectable levels of glyphosate include Quaker Dinosaur Eggs instant oatmeal, Cheerios cereal, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker steel cut oats and Back to Nature Classic Granola. Further, out of 16 organic oat foods tested, five contained glyphosate, although at levels below EWG’s health benchmark of 160 parts per billion (ppb). In 2016, tests conducted by the nonprofit organizations Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project also found glyphosate residues in a variety of foods including Doritos, Oreos and Stacy’s Pita Chips.3

Glyphosate has even been detected in PediaSure Enteral Formula nutritional drink, which is given to infants and children via feeding tubes. Thirty percent of the samples tested contained levels of glyphosate over 75 ppb — far higher levels than have been found to destroy gut bacteria in chickens (0.1 ppb).4

How Much Glyphosate Exposure Is Dangerous?

This is a question without a set answer at this time, but exposure to the chemical, even at low levels, has been linked to a variety of health risks. Daily exposure to ultra-low levels of glyphosate for two years led to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in rats,5 for instance, while the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen" in 2015.

As of July 2017, California's Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) also listed glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer under Proposition 65, which requires consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels. According to EWG, “OEHHA has proposed a so-called No Significant Risk Level for glyphosate of 1.1 milligrams per day for an average adult of about 154 pounds. That level of exposure is more than 60 times lower than the safety level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.”6

Exposure to glyphosate at OEHHA’s risk level would present an increased lifetime risk of cancer of 1 in 100,000 for an adult, but EWG points out that an additional tenfold margin of safety may be necessary to protect those most vulnerable, like children and fetuses. Using this methodology, virtually all of the foods tested by EWG could be damaging to human health:7

“With this additional children’s health safety factor, EWG calculated that a one-in-a-million cancer risk would be posed by ingestion of 0.01 milligrams of glyphosate per day. To reach this maximum dose, one would only have to eat a single 60-gram serving of food with a glyphosate level of 160 parts per billion, or ppb.

The majority of samples of conventional oat products from EWG’s study exceeded 160ppb, meaning that a single serving of those products would exceed EWG’s health benchmark … The EPA has calculated that 1-to-2-year-old children are likely to have the highest [glyphosate] exposure, at a level twice greater than California’s No Significant Risk Level and 230 times EWG’s health benchmark.”

Glyphosate Is Often Used as a Desiccant on Non-GMO Products

Most of the more than 250 million pounds of glyphosate sprayed on U.S. crops annually is used on genetically engineered crops,8 like Roundup-ready corn and soybeans that are engineered to withstand the chemical’s otherwise lethal effects. However, while choosing organic, nongenetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a good way to reduce your exposure to glyphosate, it isn’t foolproof, because the chemical is also used as a desiccant on many non-GMO crops.

In northern, colder regions farmers of wheat and barley must wait for their crops to dry out prior to harvest. Rather than wait an additional two weeks or so for this to happen naturally, farmers realized they could spray the plants with glyphosate, killing the crop and accelerating their drying (a process known as desiccating).

Desiccating wheat with glyphosate is particularly common in years with wet weather and has been increasing in North Dakota and Upper Midwestern states in the U.S., as well as in areas of Canada and Scotland (where the process first began). In some cases, non-GMO foods may be even more contaminated with glyphosate than GMO crops, because they’re being sprayed just weeks prior to being made into your cereal, bread, cookies and the like.

Researchers from University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine noted in JAMA that Roundup is “applied as a desiccant to most small nongenetically modified grains.” So for both GE crops and non-GE grains, glyphosate “is found in these crops at harvest.”9 In a statement, a spokesperson for Quaker denied using glyphosate during the milling process but acknowledged that the chemical is often used preharvest:10

“Glyphosate is commonly used by farmers across the industry who apply it pre-harvest. Once the oats are transported to us, we put them through our rigorous process that thoroughly cleanses them (de-hulled, cleaned, roasted and flaked). 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.”

However, EWG’s testing revealed one sample of Quaker oats with 1,300 ppb of glyphosate, and another with 1,100. Along with wheat and oats, other crops that are commonly desiccated with glyphosate include:

Lentils

Peas

Non-GMO soybeans

Corn

Flax

Rye and Buckwheat

Triticale

Canola

Millet

Sugar beets

Potatoes

Sunflowers

GMOs Marketed as Non-GMO

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) and other gene-editing tools are already being used in the food industry to create gene-edited crops in which DNA is tweaked or snipped out at a precise location. TALEN, another gene-editing tool that’s being used to find and edit DNA sequences, is also being used to turn off genes that create trans fats in soybean oil. New DNA sequences can also be inserted to modify the gene.

Although they’re genetically engineered, gene-edited foods are not marketed as GMOs, nor are they labeled as such. In fact, biotech company Calyxt, which created gene-edited soybean oil, is marketing its product as “non-GMO” and hopes to have it added to chips, salad dressings and other foods by the end of 2018.11

Because they contain no foreign genetic material, foods produced via gene-editing are not subject to regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — although an advisory board recommended gene-edited foods could not be labeled organic — or other regulatory agencies.

“They, at least for now, largely fall outside of current regulations,” the Times reported.12 To date, the technology has been used not only to produce soybeans with altered fatty acid profiles, but also potatoes that take longer to turn brown and potatoes that remain fresher longer and do not produce carcinogens when fried. Other uses for gene editing in foods include the creation of low-gluten wheat, mushrooms that don’t turn brown and tomatoes that can be produced in areas with shorter growing seasons.

The technology may even be used to create plants that withstand droughts and diseases or seeds that can be customized to unique growing conditions. The FDA is reportedly evaluating whether gene-edited foods carry safety risks, and concerns have been raised that off-target edits could cause unintended changes to plant DNA, with consequences that could include growth disturbances, exposure to plant diseases or the introduction of allergens or toxins.13

In an interview with GM Watch, Michael Antoniou, a London-based molecular geneticist, explained that significant changes could occur due to genetic editing, in both agricultural and medical contexts, necessitating long-term safety and toxicity studies. He explained:14

Many of the genome editing-induced off-target mutations, as well as those induced by the tissue culture, will no doubt be benign in terms of effects on gene function. However, many will not be benign and their effects can carry through to the final marketed product, whether it be plant or animal … Thus not only is it necessary to conduct whole genome sequencing to identify all off-target mutations from CRISPR-based genome editing, but it is also essential to ascertain the effects of these unintended changes on global patterns of gene function.

 … In addition, it is important to acknowledge that the targeted intended change in a given gene may also have unintended effects. For example, the total disruption or modification of an enzyme function can lead to unexpected or unpredictable biochemical side-reactions that can markedly alter the composition of an organism, such as a food crop.”

How Much Glyphosate Is in Your Body — and Your Drinking Water?

Researchers from UCSD School of Medicine tested urine levels of glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) among 100 people living in Southern California over a period of 23 years — from 1993 to 2016.15 At the start of the study, Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego, stated that very few of the participants had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine, but by 2016, 70 percent of them did.16

Overall, the prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate increased by 500 percent during the study period while actual levels of the chemical, in ug/ml, increased by a shocking 1,208 percent.17 If you’d like to know your personal glyphosate levels, you can now find out, while also participating in a worldwide study on environmental glyphosate exposures. The Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa developed the glyphosate urine test kit, which will allow you to determine your own exposure to this toxic herbicide.

Ordering this kit automatically allows you to participate in the study and help HRI better understand the extent of glyphosate exposure and contamination. In a few weeks, you will receive your results, along with information on how your results compare with others and what to do to help reduce your exposure. We are providing these kits to you at no profit in order for you to participate in this environmental study.

In the meantime, eating organic as much as possible and investing in a good water filtration system for your home are among the best ways to lower your exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides. In the case of glyphosate, it’s also wise to avoid desiccated crops like wheat and oats. If you want to know how much glyphosate may be in your drinking water, HRI has also developed a glyphosate water test kit that will allow you to determine glyphosate levels in your water source.

If you’re concerned about glyphosate residues in your food, you can help to prompt change by reaching out to the companies that make your food. Let them know that you prefer foods without glyphosate residues — and are prepared to switch brands if necessary to find them.

Olga Naidenko, EWG’s senior science adviser for children's health, told CNN, "We know it is possible to grow oats and other grains without herbicides. Companies do not need to wait for EPA; they can simply talk to their suppliers and say, 'please grow our oats without glyphosate, because our customers are complaining.'"

EWG toxicologist Alexis Temkin added, "this type of use of glyphosate is a very small percentage of the overall use, yet it can have the greatest impact on human health, so we think this is the place to target reducing the use of glyphosate.”18 In addition to voicing your opinion to food companies, contact the EPA and encourage them to restrict preharvest applications of glyphosate in order to reduce the amount of this toxic chemical entering the food supply.