It may seem like an alarmist local news story to declare your breakfast could kill you, but a new independent study claims that some of your favorite cereals could contain unsafe levels of a chemical used in a popular weed killer. The report, from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), was published online Wednesday and outlines the levels of the chemical glyphosate they found in various breakfast cereals and snacks. Glyphosate is the major ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp and one at the center of an ongoing tug-of-war. The World Health Organization (WHO) has ruled the chemical is "probably carcinogenic to humans," and the state of California has categorized it as a chemical linked to cancer. Meanwhile, in late 2017, the EPA concluded an assessment that declared "glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. And its with that intersection in mind that one has to look upon the new EWG report — which wasn't peer reviewed by independent scientists — with quite a bit of scrutiny. EWG versus the EPA For the study, the EWG tested dozens of samples, looking for levels of glyphosate that were above 160 pars per billion (ppb)/0.16 mg, which the organization considers the upper range of safe levels of the chemical for children to be exposed to. You can see their full results here but a few items stand out: Quaker Dinosaur Eggs, Brown Sugar, Instant Oatmeal had readings of 620 ppb/0.62 mg and 780 ppb/0.78 mg. Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal had readings of 470 ppb/0.47 mg, 490 ppb/0.49 mg, and 530 ppb/0.53 mg. Quaker Old Fashioned Oats had readings of 390 ppb/0.39 mg, 1100 ppb/1.1 mg, and 1300 ppb/1.3 mg. Those numbers seem not so great — if you use the EWG's threshold. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a much higher bar for how much glyphosate is safe for a person. According to a 1993 EPA report, the safe exposure level could be as high as 2 mg a day, well above any of the rates that the EWG uncovered in their studies. For what it's worth,
The Guardian recently published a report showing that the FDA has been investigating the use of glyphosate for years but has yet to issue any public findings. The ongoing research into glyphosate is important because It's a hugely popular pesticide, with hundreds of millions of gallons being used on U.S. crops each year. And, per
The Guardian's report, "the FDA has had trouble finding any food that does not carry traces of the pesticide." Not that eating pesticides is a great thing, but the large discrepancies between the EPA numbers and the EWG numbers can be confusing for consumers trying to determine how much, exactly, is still safe. "Finding glyphosate in food is residue," Kaitlin Stack Whitney, an environmental studies scholar, said in an interview. "Residue limits are a subset of exposure limits as eating pesticides residue is one route of potential exposure." "So finding non-zero amounts isn't unexpected; it's's planned for and limited under current law," Stack Whitney, who also worked as a staff biologist for the EPA, added. There's also the issue of "spray drift," as Stack Whitney notes, pointing to EWG finding traces of the chemical on products labeled organic likely due to some of the pesticide drifting to those organic crops on the wind. "The current pesticide review process struggles to account for this because agencies can't know what anyone and everyone's neighbors may grow and which chemicals they may apply," she said. "So whether residues are from direct application or drift is critical to understanding how to address if you think the amount is unsafe." A question of methodology For Lori Hoepner, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, it's about methodology. She notes that "it's hard enough to have consensus among scientists when you're talking about using the same methods." "So to go from something that would determine the limit of exposure, and try to extend that information to telling consumers about what it means to find glyphosate in their food, I think it can be perceived as something of a stretch," Hoepner said. Noting that she's familiar with the EWG's work and has vouched for them as a good resource for consumers, Hoepner still expressed some reservations about they way they presented their work for this study. "It always concerns me when science is presented in a way that is not peer-reviewed, doesn't have the oversight of additional researchers who can validate or question the method." Stack Whitney echoed Hoepner's sentiment: "[The EWG] study is like a white paper or other reports from think tanks, well researched and written but not peer reviewed. It would be useful to review their actual data and methods but those aren't available." Hoepner also wanted to see more about how they took their samples. "What was their method? Was it randomized? Was it all from one box? How many different boxes were used? Where did they buy them?" Hoepner said. Noting the wide ranges in some of the results, Hoepner says, "that definitely creates a question mark in my mind for validity." The corporations defend their products As for the companies identified in the study, they're standing by the quality of their products. A statement sent via email from the Quaker brand maintained the brand's stance they're products are perfectly safe and included a passage that denied the use of glyphosate in the making of their products. A spokesperson for General Mills, producers of Cheerios, echoed this sentiment in a statement. Corporate behemoth Monsanto, which produces RoundUp, has been under fire lately for the chemical, including a recent California verdict that ordered the company to pay $289 million to a school groundskeeper who claimed his constant and prolonged exposure to the chemical was to blame for him developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In the wake of the EWG's report, Monsanto posted a rebuttal on their website accusing the EWG of "publicizing misleading information." Additionally, in an email exchange, a spokesperson for Monsanto highlighted this portion: Additionally, Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge told the
New York Times in response to EWG study, “[The EWG] have an agenda. They are fear mongering. They distort science.” For consumers, there's no right or wrong answer at the moment. While buying different brands may seem like an option, the prevalence of the pesticides used makes it nearly impossible to completely avoid. The opposing sets of data can only sow more confusion and consumers are left to decide who they trust more: groups like the EWG, government agencies like the EPA, or corporations. WATCH: Here's how long fruits and vegetables are stored before you buy them at the store read more Disclaimer: Chances are that this post was requested by an advertiser.