Once in a while, one learns something valuable by reading the news. Today, thanks to the New York Times, I learned how much glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) is found in various snacks and breakfast cereals, including the venerable and supposedly kid-friendly Cheerios. You can read the results for yourself, as reported by the lab that performed the tests.
I was astounded by the concentration of glyphosate found in Cheerios, my favorite cereal: 1125 parts per billion. I know, that is just a number, but compare this to what the same lab found in other familiar products: Cool Ranch Doritos, 481 parts per billion (ppb); Wheaties, 31 ppb; Trix, 10 ppb; Lay’s Classic Potato Chips, zero. The lower detection limit of the glyphosate test, according to the published test method, is 5 ppb.
How much is 1125 parts per billion? If one were to eat a bowl (say one-and-a-half ounces) of Cheerios every day for a year, one would consume roughly 0.0006 ounces (0.017 grams, or 17 milligrams) of glyphosate. How much is 17 milligrams? It is about the same weight as thirty human hairs, each four inches long. Or seven mosquitoes. Or a very, very, very tiny football field.
I have no idea whether consuming this amount of glyphosate is harmful. Many studies claim it is not, or at least that there is no evidence of harm. But I still have to ask, why do Cheerios have 100 times more glyphosate per bowl than Trix? Why should Cheerios need so much glyphosate? For answers, I decided to search the websites of Cheerios and then General Mills. The Cheerios website returns no results for glyphosate. The General Mills website responds with this statement, which does not specifically mention glyphosate:
Thanks for taking the time to ask us about this important issue. At General Mills, our holistic approach to sustainable agriculture includes reducing environmental impacts and strengthening our agricultural supply chain. … We continue to work closely with farmers, our suppliers and conservation organizations to minimize the use of pesticides on the crops and ingredients we use in our foods.
This is the very definition of corporate dissembling. So I wrote a note to General Mills asking them to respond specifically about glyphosate levels in Cheerios. Here was their obviously pre-packaged reply:
Thank you for contacting Cheerios.
Our products are safe and without question they meet regulatory safety levels. The EPA has researched this issue and has set rules that we follow as do farmers who grow crops including wheat and oats. We continue to work closely with farmers, our suppliers and conservation organizations to minimize the use of pesticides on the crops and ingredients we use in our foods.
Thank you for your interest in Cheerios. We hope this information is helpful to you.
Consumer Relations Representative
Brian is again careful to make no mention of glyphosate, as if there is no issue to discuss. Sorry, Brian. When there is a 100-to-1 difference in glyphosate levels in two of your own breakfast cereals (Cheerios vs. Trix), it suggests that herbicide usage is indeed an issue. Could it possibly be that oats (Cheerios) are heavily treated but corn (Trix) is not?
I’ll answer that: it sure could be. I came across another study that tested glyphosate levels in Quaker Steel Cut Oats. You remember oatmeal, that good old stick-to-your-ribs stuff. The study found 1530 parts per billion of glyphosate in Quaker Oats, even higher than the level in Cheerios. Consider: the amount of glyphosate in a cup of Quaker Steel Cut Oats is twice the amount of fluoride in a cup of drinking water.
As I was to learn, oat farmers are the culprit here — their “holistic approach to sustainable agriculture” involves intentionally spraying Roundup on their oats to dry (dessicate) the crop prior to harvest. Yum. Taste the flavor.
• • •
You know, I am not an alarmist. I am not the type of person to throw numbers around to intimidate or frighten people. In this article, I raised my eyebrows at glyphosate levels of 1000 parts per billion, fully aware that the European Union, for example, allows oats to contain 20,000 parts per billion of glyphosate — twenty times the level in Cheerios. Still, 1000 parts per billion of anything not meant to be consumed but intentionally added suggests to me wanton and/or careless use.
I make this distinction because we consume non-food substances in our food all the time. Did you know the EPA allows 700 parts per billion of glyphosate in our drinking water? Or that the peppercorns in your grinder are allowed to contain 2000 ppb of rodent feces? (Would you like fresh ground pepper with your rat?) One Scientific American blogger estimated that we eat one or two pounds of flies, maggots and bugs each year, mixed in with the stuff we actually want to eat. If you are a food purist, you have not only lost the battle but the war.
But back to Cheerios. I was unhappy with General Mills’ response to my query, though it was pretty much what I expected. Glyphosate is not water. It is a herbicide. It should be applied to weeds, not crops. It should not be casually used as a crop dessicant. And it should not be an ingredient in oats, regardless of whether it has been shown to harm us.
I will not buy Cheerios — or any other oat cereal — until its glyphosate content is lowered to levels comparable to those in other cereals. This will not happen until oat farmers use herbicides more responsibly. And that will not happen until General Mills, Quaker Oats and the rest of Big Food come to see low-glyphosate — like gluten-free — as a marketable and profitable product feature.
It’s time to voice our demand for Roundup-Free Cheerios. Until we get them, we should not buy them. Simple as that. Now, as for our drinking water…