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Uh-oh — What's in your Cheerios?

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

glyphosate in oat based cereal snack products

Story at-a-glance -

  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned another round of glyphosate testing on 21 oat-based cereal and snack products
  • EWG purchased the products online, then packed and shipped about 300 grams of each to Anresco Laboratories in San Francisco. There, liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry was used to analyze glyphosate levels
  • The chemical was found in all 21 products, with all but four of them coming in higher than EWG’s benchmark for lifetime cancer risk in children, which is 160 parts per billion (ppb)
  • Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, granola bars and oatmeal squares are among the products commonly containing glyphosate residues
  • EWG and other consumer groups have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of glyphosate residues allowed in oats from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 0.1 ppm, as well as to prohibit the use of glyphosate as a preharvest desiccant, or drying agent

Popular breakfast foods often marketed and fed to children continue to test positive for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. Glyphosate is the subject of lawsuits filed by more than 13,000 plaintiffs, who allege they developed cancer due to exposure to the ubiquitous chemical in Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers.1

A number of cities, counties, states and countries have already moved to ban glyphosate or impose restrictions on its use. This includes Austria, which announced in June 2019 plans to ban the chemical within the year.2 In the U.S., however, use continues unabated and, since 1974, more than 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate (3.5 billion pounds) have been applied.3

Writing in Environmental Sciences Europe, researchers even stated, "In 2014, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply ~1.0 kg/ha (0.8 pound/acre) on every hectare (2.47 acres) of U.S.-cultivated cropland and nearly 0.53 kg/ha (0.47 pounds/acre) on all cropland worldwide."

The end result of this rampant chemical usage is that glyphosate is showing up everywhere — in breastmilk, water,4 disposable diapers5 and honey, for instance. Residues of the chemical have consistently shown up in popular breakfast foods as well, including oat breakfast cereals consumed by many children.

How much glyphosate is in your Cheerios?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned another round of glyphosate testing on 21 oat-based cereal and snack products. EWG purchased the products online, then packed and shipped about 300 grams of each to Anresco Laboratories in San Francisco. There, liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry was used to analyze glyphosate levels.

The chemical was found in all 21 products, with all but four of them coming in higher than EWG's benchmark for lifetime cancer risk in children, which is 160 parts per billion (ppb). The results were as follows:6

Product Type Variety Glyphosate (ppb)

Oat breakfast cereal

Honey Nut Cheerios

147

Oat breakfast cereal

Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal

729

Oat breakfast cereal

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios

400

Oat breakfast cereal

Cheerios Oat Crunch Cinnamon

283

Oat breakfast cereal

Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch

833

Oat breakfast cereal

Multi Grain Cheerios

216

Oat breakfast cereal

Nature Valley Baked Oat Bites

389

Granola

Nature Valley Granola Peanut Butter Creamy & Crunchy

198

Granola

Nature Valley Granola Protein Oats n Dark Chocolate

261

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Fruit & Nut Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bars, Dark Chocolate & Nut

76

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Fruit & Nut Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bars, Dark Chocolate Cherry

275

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut granola bars, Cashew

158

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Crunchy granola bars, Oats and Honey

320

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Crunchy granola bars, Peanut Butter

312

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Crunchy granola bars, Maple Brown Sugar

566

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares, Blueberry

206

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares, Cinnamon Brown Sugar

124

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Granola Cups, Almond Butter

529

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Granola Cups, Peanut Butter Chocolate

297

Snack or snack bar

Nature Valley Biscuits with Almond Butter

194

Snack or snack bar

Fiber One Oatmeal Raisin soft-baked cookies

204

Source: EWG, from tests in May 2019

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Past EWG tests also revealed weed killer in cereal

"The new tests confirm and amplify EWG's findings from tests in July and October of last year, with levels of glyphosate consistently above EWG's children's health benchmark," EWG stated, referring to past testing from 2018.7

In the July testing, 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.8

Examples of foods with detectable levels of glyphosate include Quaker Dinosaur Eggs instant oatmeal and, as in the featured study, Cheerios cereal, Nature Valley granola bars, Quaker steel cut oats and Back to Nature Classic Granola. Even out of the 16 organic oat foods tested, five contained glyphosate, although at levels below EWG's health benchmark of 160 ppb.

Follow-up testing of another 28 samples of oat-based cereal and other oat-based foods marketed to children found glyphosate in all the samples tested, with 26 of them coming in above EWG's health benchmark.

Again, glyphosate was detected in General Mills' Cheerios and a host of Quaker brand products such as instant oatmeal, breakfast cereal and snack bars. The highest glyphosate level — 2,837 ppb — was found in Quaker Oatmeal Squares breakfast cereal.

Additional independent testing finds glyphosate in cereal, beans

In testing done by Friends of the Earth (FOE), 100 percent of oat cereal samples also tested positive for residues of glyphosate.9 FOE tested store-brand cereal, beans and produce from the top four food retailers in the U.S.: Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Albertsons/Safeway.

Altogether, 132 samples of house brand samples were tested from more than 30 U.S. stores in 15 states. Residues of glyphosate and other pesticides — neonicotinoids and organophosphates — were found, with glyphosate being detected in 100% of oat cereal and pinto bean samples tested.

The average level of glyphosate in cereal samples was 360 ppb, but some of the cereal samples contained residues as high as 931 ppb. As for pinto beans, levels were found up to 1,128 ppb, although average glyphosate levels were 509 ppb — 4.5 times higher than EWG's benchmark. According to FOE:10

"EWG determined 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 have to eat a single 60-gram serving of oat cereal with a glyphosate level of 160 ppb or a 90-gram serving of pinto beans with a glyphosate level of 110 ppb."

Bayer-Monsanto — 'We listened, we learned'

Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018 for about $63 billion, has been dealing with the fallout of Monsanto's Roundup. Bayer has been slammed with judgments in the first three Roundup lawsuits to go to trial.

The verdicts, which have sided with plaintiffs in all cases so far, including a $2-billion payout in the third case, not only have found that Roundup herbicide caused the plaintiffs' cancer but also that "Monsanto engaged in malice, oppression or fraud in their attempts to cover up Roundup's toxicity."11

On their website, Bayer is entrenched in damage control, stating, "We listened. We learned," and pledging to make commitments to transparency, sustainability and engagement.12 Yet, the company also plans to invest more than $5.6 billion in weed killer research and continues to claim that glyphosate is safe and "will continue to play an important role in agriculture and in Bayer's portfolio."13

In the first trial glyphosate trial, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million in damages to the plaintiff, although the award was later reduced to $78 million. In the second case, a judge also ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and Bayer was ordered to pay more than $80 million.14

EPA continues to support glyphosate, increased allowable residues in food

In their latest review of glyphosate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft conclusion on April 30, 2019, stating the chemical poses potential risks to mammals and birds that eat treated leaves, as well as risks to plants,15 but poses "no risks of concern" for people and "is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans."16

Bayer is now using that to its advantage as a "silver bullet" defense of Roundup. Reuters quoted one of Bayer's lawyers, William Hoffman, who stated, "We have very strong arguments that the claims here are preempted ... and the recent EPA registration decision is an important aspect of that defense."17 As further noted by The Washington Post:18

"When Bayer bought Monsanto, the company probably thought it could ride the support of the EPA and other regulators through any legal risks involving Roundup, said Anthony Johndrow, an expert on how corporations manage crises. But the company underestimated the reputational damage that came from those lawsuits, and how they damaged the company's public perception."

EWG and other consumer groups have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the amount of glyphosate residues allowed in oats from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 0.1 ppm, as well as prohibit the use of glyphosate as a preharvest desiccant, or drying agent.19

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."20 According to EWG:21

"The EPA's legal limit on glyphosate residues is 30 parts per million, or ppm. The petition, joined by 18 industry leaders, asks the EPA to set a more protective standard of 0.1 ppm, which was the legal limit in 1993. Over the past 25 years, the EPA has increased the amount of glyphosate residue allowed on oats 300-fold.

The first increase, to 20 ppm, was granted in response to a 1997 petition from Monsanto, when farmers around the world first began using glyphosate widely as a late-season drying agent. It was increased to the current 30 ppm level in 2008. Since then, scientists have linked glyphosate to cancer, and researchers around the world have called for stricter limits on glyphosate exposures."

There are better foods than Cheerios for breakfast

If you want to avoid glyphosate in your food, choose organic or biodynamically grown foods, which are not genetically engineered or sprayed with glyphosate as a desiccant. 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.

EWG also has a petition you can sign, telling food companies like Genera Mills, Quaker and Kellogg's to get glyphosate out of their products, adding, "Parents shouldn't have to worry about carcinogenic pesticides in their food at the grocery store."22

Indeed. Fortunately, avoiding glyphosate-tainted oat products like Cheerios, other breakfast cereals and granola bars is easy, and there are far better choices for breakfast anyway, like organic, pastured eggs or this Morning Sunshine Breakfast Shake.