Just how much poison can safely exist in the food we eat?
A new study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) argues that the levels of glyphosates it found in many popular cereals and snacks are higher than what is safe for children.
A second round of tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer in every sample of popular oat-based cereal and other oat-based food marketed to children. These test results fly in the face of claims by two companies, Quaker and General Mills, which have said there is no reason for concern. This is because, they say, their products meet the legal standards.
Yet almost all of the samples tested by EWG had residues of glyphosate at levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety.
The levels don’t violate the EPA’s guidelines on the amount of glyphosates that can be present in consumer goods, but EWG uses a stricter standard.
The environmental group says its lower threshold includes an added buffer for children, as “exposure during early life can have more significant effects on development later in life,” according to Dr. Alexis Temkin, the lead scientist on EWG report.
But manufacturers dispute that threshold. Quaker said in a statement that the “EWG report artificially creates a ‘safe level’ for glyphosate that is detached from those that have been established by responsible regulatory bodies in an effort to grab headlines.”
General Mills, the company behind Cheerios and other brands, denied its products were unsafe.
General Mills, whose products were also cited in the report, maintained that glyphosate levels in its foods do not pose any health risks. “The extremely low levels of pesticide residue cited in recent news reports is a tiny fraction of the amount the government allows,” the company said in statement to CNN.
“Consumers are regularly bombarded with alarming headlines, but rarely have the time to weigh the information for themselves,” the company said. “We feel this is important context that consumers should be aware of when considering this topic.”
Quaker Oats also rebuffed the report’s claims.
“The EWG report artificially creates a “safe level” for glyphosate that is detached from those that have been established by responsible regulatory bodies in an effort to great headlines,” read a statement from Quaker. “We believe EWG’s approach is invalid, and we stand behind our statement that the Quaker products tested by EWG are safe.”
Are glyphosates dangerous?
Debate continues about whether the chemicals found in Roundup are dangerous for human consumption. Authoritative bodies disagree.
The EPA concluded in 2017 that glyphosate “is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” but a World Health Organization agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), determined in 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Dr. Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, defended the WHO group, calling it “a world renowned and reputable academic and research institute in cancer epidemiology.”
The EPA, in contrast, “is a regulatory agency, and in many ways a political agency,” he said. “In 2018, I would not hold EPA’s view on glyphosate as a fact.”
General Mills claims the pesticides have a minimal health impact.
“Most crops grown in fields use some form of pesticides and trace amounts are found in the majority of food we all eat,” said General Mills in a statement.
“We continue to work closely with farmers, our suppliers and conservation organizations to minimize the use of pesticides on the ingredients we use in our foods,” the company said.
The product is part of a lawsuit which settled for $289 million after a California man claimed it gave him cancer. A judge later reduced the award to $49 million.
Still, some say the product poses no risk to consumers who ingest it.
The IARC has vigorously defended its finding, but a separate WHO panel assessing pesticide residues determined in 2016 that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet,” adding to a dizzying array of contradictory findings.
Puzzling conclusions like those are not uncommon in cancer research, according to Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical and scientific officer.
“IARC, I think, is very, very reasonable in their assessments,” he said, “but IARC will sometimes make an assessment that is not satisfying to many of us.”
What do you think of General Mills’ and Quaker Oats’ responses to the controversy, PR Daily readers?