If you're looking for the Spring Cleaning article mentioned in the April 2024 newsletter, click here!

How about a little pesticide with your breakfast? If you regularly eat Cheerios or Quaker Oats products, there are some things you should know, especially if you are feeding these seemingly wholesome foods to your children and assuming they are part of a healthy diet for growing bodies. Let’s focus on two pesticides that may be in our bodies currently: the more familiar glyphosate, and a newbie called chlormequat.


Remember glyphosate, the main ingredient in the weed killer spray Roundup? Farmers spray this herbicide directly onto crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat and oats. California state scientists, the World Health Organization (WHO), and world-renowned cancer research center The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined in 2015 that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen, and in 2018 plaintiff Dewayne Johnson won $289 million in damages due to cancer caused by glyphosate.  The Guardian noted there are residues of glyphosate in food, water, soil, air, and even rainfall around the globe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control found glyphosate in more than 80% of children and adults tested.

In 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned independent laboratory tests and found glyphosate in all but two out of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats. Almost three-fourths of the samples had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health, allowing for an adequate margin of safety. 

About one-third of the 16 samples made with organically grown oats, including Bob's Red Mill Organic Oats, also had traces of glyphosate, albeit significantly less than non-organic ones, and at levels well below EWG’s health benchmark. (If you’re wondering how organic crops get tainted, particles of pesticide can drift from nearby fields of conventionally grown, pesticide sprayed crops. Also, cross-contamination can occur later at a facility that handles non-organic crops.)

SCOCO has published previous articles like "Ditch The Pesticides" and "Weeds and Bees" about how glyphosate not only harms our health but negatively impacts vital pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Why Isn’t Glyphosate Banned?

The United States does not have a universal ban on Roundup or products containing glyphosate because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims “There are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.” Luckily, certain states and counties have discontinued or restricted its use, including Contra Costa County and many other counties in California. We must remember, however, that most of the cereals and processed foods we purchase do not come from locally grown crops.

To complicate matters, there’s a new kid in town.


Just last month, the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology published a shocking new study that found that 80% of Americans tested over several years had a lesser known chemical called chlormequat chloride in their urine, and concentrations have been increasing.

This agricultural chemical was intended for ornamental plants grown in greenhouses and nurseries for the purpose of decreasing stem height and preventing crops from bending over, which can make harvesting more difficult. Animal studies show that the chemical can damage the reproductive system, affect fertility, decrease testosterone, and disrupt fetal growth. This plant “growth regulator” is not approved for edible crops in the United States, however, starting in 2018 it was allowed to enter the country through imported foods from the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada, particularly wheat, oats, and barley.

Cheerios and Quaker Oats: It’s Not What’s for Breakfast Anymore

In May 2023, another report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected Chlormequat in 92% of traditional oat-based foods and 22% of conventional wheat-based products. The chemical was found in many General Mills products, including Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cheerios Oat Crunch Oats n' Honey, and Frosted Cheerios, as well as Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar, and oat-based bars like Quaker Chewy Dark Chocolate Chunk. These iconic brands have been at the core of American breakfasts for years. Cheerios are a particularly popular first finger food among children, and Quaker Oats are a favorite for parents introducing their toddlers to solid food. Some generic store-brand granola and cereals sold at Walmart and Target also contained the chemical.

Mollie Wulff, a spokesperson for General Mills, said: "All our products adhere to all regulatory requirements. Food safety is always our top priority at General Mills, and we take care to ensure our food is prepared and packaged in the safest way possible." General Mills also issued a statement that said, “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.” Quaker Oats told People Magazine: “We stand by the safety and quality of our products. We have a comprehensive food safety management system in place. We adhere to all regulatory guidelines to ensure the safest, highest quality products for our consumers."

According to the EPA, the chemical is "currently undergoing registration review.” To learn more about chlormequat and add your name to EWG's petition calling on the EPA to get chlormequat out of our food, go HERE.

What Else Can We Do?

The CDC provides some solutions here. To state the obvious, we can minimize our overall exposure to pesticides by avoiding toxic products and choosing alternative pest control measures. If you have to use pesticides, don’t apply more than needed and follow directions on the label. Keep pesticides away from children, pets, and wildlife. Older adults are more vulnerable to pesticides because of thinner skin and less efficient liver and kidney function. Wear protective clothing and wash face, hands, and clothing after handling any pesticide. But what about the food we eat? Most of us have pesticides in our bodies from years of eating products tainted with pesticides. Unless and until federal regulators act to get chlormequat out of our food, buying organic can help reduce potential exposure to the chemical. One peer-reviewed study by Friends of the Earth found that levels of glyphosate dropped 71% after just one week of being on an organic diet. Even though some samples of organic food contain pesticides, the levels are much lower than conventionally grown food, and any decrease in exposure is better than nothing.

For an updated 2023 list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” in produce, check out EWG's 2023 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

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  • Wow, I had a suspicion but didn't know the facts. Thanks so much for shedding light on this!
    • Thanks, Tina. Yeah, it was so disappointing to learn about all this.
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