WASHINGTON — Dozens of common breakfast cereals and snack bars have trace amounts of a controversial herbicide found in the weed killer Roundup, according to a report released by an environmental advocacy group.
The Environmental Working Group found that 26 of the 28 products it tested had levels of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that were “higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health.”
An earlier report found similar results in more than 30 oat-based foods.
Manufacturers say their products are safe, but the EWG report argues the vast majority of foods tested — such as Honey Nut Cheerios and Quaker Simply Granola Oats — have glyphosate levels that might pose a cancer risk with long-term consumption.
None of the foods violated EPA limits on the herbicide, but the EWG uses a far more conservative health benchmark.
California’s proposed glyphosate limit, which would be the most restrictive in the country, still allows for glyphosate levels that are more than 100 times higher than the EWG’s threshold.
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 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, 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 a statement.
“Consumers are regularly bombarded with alarming headlines, but rarely have the time to weigh the information for themselves. We feel this is important context that consumers should be aware of when considering this topic.”
In August, a jury in San Francisco ordered Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto, to pay $289 million in damages to a school groundskeeper who argued the glyphosate-based weed killer caused his cancer.
A judge on Monday upheld that decision but slashed Monsanto’s payout to $78 million.
Pharmaceutical giant Bayer recently purchased Monsanto and said in a statement the company plans to appeal the court’s decision.
“Glyphosate-based herbicides have been used safely and successfully for over four decades worldwide,” the company said in a statement.
“There is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 rigorous registration studies required by EPA, European and other regulators, that confirms that these products are safe when used as directed.”
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, 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.”