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A new round of testing has against detected potentially dangerous levels of Roundup residue in popular oat-based breakfast foods, such as Cheerios and granola bars, further increasing concerns about the widespread use of the controversial weedkiller, which has been linked to thousands of reports involving non-Hodgkins lymphoma and cancer among farmers, landscapers and other consumers directly spraying the glyphosate-based herbicide.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued the results of tests on 21 oat-based cereal and snack products on June 12, finding that all but four had levels of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which were higher than the EWG considers safe for children’s health.
There has been growing concern over the amount of Roundup residue in food products since 2015, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen, linking the herbicide to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Environmental Working Group considers 160 parts per billion (ppb) to be the maximum amount of glyphosate which should be in a product to protect children’s health. Previous rounds of testing has shown that most oat-based products have levels of Roundup residue that typically exceed these levels, and the current findings reinforce those concerns.
The threshold is significantly lower than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dietary exposure limit of 700 parts per billion. However, the EPA has issued assessments claiming it does not believe glyphosate is a cancer risk at all, which many consumer groups claim is a regulatory opinion that has been unduly influenced by Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup.
In this round of testing, the EWG found that Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch contained 833 parts per billion, and Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal contained 729 parts per billion, with higher levels of Roundup residue than even the EPA’s exposure limits deem to be safe. Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars with Maple Brown Sugar tested at 566 ppb, and Almond Butter-flavored Nature Valley Granola Cup samples tested at 529 ppb.
Only four of the 21 products tested below the EWG’s levels of concern, including Honey Nut Cheerios; Nature Valley Fruit & Nut Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bars, Dark Chocolate & Nut; Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut Granola Bars, Cashew; and Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares, Cinnamon Brown Sugar.
Previous Glyphosate Testing
This is the third round of testing by the EWG on oat-based products, which are typically doused with glyphosate during the growing process, as part of a process to dry them out. The EWG has called for an end to this practice, and in March 2019 joined a group of 10 food manufacturers and retailers in a petition calling for more stringent limits on the amount of glyphosate allowed in foods and to outlaw the practice of using Roundup as a drying agent.
The EWG notes that all of the products tested except Nature Valley Fruit & Nut Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bars, Dark Chocolate & Nut would have failed to pass the EPA’s limits for glyphosate in oats as they were back in 1993.
In February 2016, the FDA indicated it would begin looking for glyphosate in U.S. food products, but stopped just months later, without issuing any findings. However, internal documents revealed that the agency has found glyphosate in honey and other products.
The FDA findings were first leaked by the food watchdog group U.S. Right to Know in September 2016. The group obtained records from the FDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many were heavily redacted, blocking out large portions of text. However, the records show that FDA researchers had trouble finding honey that does not contain glyphosate residue.
Other studies have also detected glyphosate in cereal and other products, and a growing number of manufacturers are facing lawsuits over claims that they failed to warn consumers that glyphosate was in their food products, or, in some cases, claimed the products were “all natural” despite the presence of the chemical.
Bayer and its recently-acquired Monsanto subsidiary face more than 15,000 Roundup lawsuits nationwide, each involving claims brought by individuals diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma after repeated exposure to the weedkiller while spraying.
State and federal courts in California have held three trials over the last year, to gauge how juries will respond to evidence, and three separate juries have found Monsanto liable for failure to warn about the cancer risk with Roundup, including massive punitive damages each time that are designed to punish the company for recklessly disregarding the health and safety of consumers.
A second trial was held in federal court earlier this year, resulting in a verdict of $80 million, despite a format that was widely thought to heavily favor the manufacturer.
Finally, a third trial concluded last month with a landmark $2 billion verdict in California state court, after considering evidence in a lawsuit brought by a husband and wife who were each diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following use of Roundup.
“As these latest tests show, a box of Cheerios or other oat-based foods on store shelves today almost certainly comes with a dose of a cancer-causing weedkiller,” Dr. Olga Naidenko, vice president for science investigations at EWG, said in a press release. “Does General Mills really want to keep using a chemical that independent scientists say causes cancer, made by a company that three juries have found guilty of covering up its health hazards? Or will they listen to the growing chorus of concerned consumers calling on General Mills and other companies to remove glyphosate from the cereals kids love to eat?”
In the federal court system, all individual Roundup cancer cases against Monsanto are currently centralized for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). However, most of the cases are filed in state courts nationwide.
Judge Chhabria has ordered the parties into mediation to see if a Roundup settlement agreement can be reached. However, the manufacturer still does not provide consumers with warnings about the health risks from Roundup exposure, leading some analysts to question the extent of liability Bayer may face in future claims.