Glyphosate: Should You Be Concerned About Weed Killer in Children’s Cereal?

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For most people, especially children, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Consequently, you might be a bit worried to hear about the latest news concerning some breakfast foods. A report released by the Environmental Working Group says there are trace amounts of glyphosate, a weed killer, in popular cereals such as Quaker Oats and Cheerios. Many are concerned about the possible link between the herbicide and cancer.

The Environmental Working Group tested 45 samples of breakfast foods made from oats that were grown in fields where herbicides were used. The organization found high levels of glyphosate in 31 of the samples.

Should you be concerned about glyphosate? The Cheat Sheet spoke with Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., Environmental Working Group’s senior science advisor for children’s health, to learn more about the study and how glyphosate can affect humans.

The Cheat Sheet: What is glyphosate?

ON: Glyphosate is a herbicide linked to cancer, and it was found in many samples of oat-based products, including popular foods that children like to eat.

CS: What foods is glyphosate found in?

ON: EWG tested a set of oat-based product samples. For most products we tested two samples of the same product​, purchased in two different locations. For some, such as Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal and Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, EWG tested three samples purchased in three different locations.

Our test results indicate that conventionally grown oat-based products are highly likely to have glyphosate in them —96% of conventional product samples had detectable amounts of glyphosate. These conventionally grown oat-based products are also quite likely to have glyphosate levels exceeding the EWG health benchmark of 160 parts per billion (69% of conventional product samples had glyphosate at or above 160 ppb).

EWG results present a general snapshot of today’s marketplace. That said, oats and oat-based products remain a healthy choice for families. People just don’t want to eat pesticide-laden breakfast foods—or other foods. We know it is possible to grow oats and other grains without herbicides, at the very least without spraying the herbicides right before the grain is harvested. And that’s what people want—healthy oatmeal without herbicides.

CS: What are the health effects of exposure and how much exposure is considered dangerous?

ON: Glyphosate has been linked to an elevated risk of cancer and classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization, as probably carcinogenic to humans. EWG’s view is that chemicals linked to cancer do not belong in children’s food.

At the same time, it is helpful to have a benchmark for the comparison of different concentrations. Using a cancer risk assessment for glyphosate developed by California state scientists, and including additional safety factors, EWG calculated such a health benchmark, expressed in terms of total amount of glyphosate that a child might ingest a day—0.01 mg (milligram) per day.

Should this full amount be present in a single portion (which EWG estimates as about 2 ounces, which is [a little less than] 60 grams), that would be a concentration of 160 parts per billion. This might not seem like much—but we are talking about the risks of lifetime exposure to toxic herbicides, and these toxic amounts add up if someone consumes products with glyphosate in them every day.

CS: Should consumers be concerned about the presence of glyphosate in cereal?

ON: The concern about glyphosate is long-term exposure. Most health agencies would say a single portion does not cause deleterious effects. But think about eating popular foods such as oatmeal every day, or almost every day—that’s when, according to scientific assessments, such amounts of glyphosate might pose health harm.

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