I used to think the Environmental Working Group was a reputable, trustworthy source of information.
Emphasis on ‘used to’…that is, until I did a little digging into what’s behind their most popular work, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. I was pretty taken aback with EWG’s dumpster fire of misinformation mixed with scare tactics and a healthy dash of shadiness (read the post here).
Glyphosate in Cereal?
The EWG has been in the headlines again for their cereal and glyphosate ‘study’, in which they found that several popular cereals ‘contaminated’ with unacceptably high levels of the popular herbicide glyphosate.
Headlines like, “New Round of Tests Find Breakfast Cereals Still Full of Roundup, Says EWG” are scaring the crap out of people, mostly because kids eat a lot of cereals and the EWG has released these latest test results with the implication that non-organic cereals have dangerous levels of glyphosate for kids. It’s a huge emotional play on the part of the EWG, because KIDS.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in the product RoundUp. In the case of oats, glyphosate is sprayed onto the crop to dry the crop before harvesting.
You might recall that a man was recently granted $289 million dollars in a ruling alleging that glyphosate gave him cancer. The man was a gardener who applied glyphosate to school grounds at least once a week for years. On several occasions, he was drenched in it. His cancer probably wasn’t from eating glyphosate-tainted breakfast cereal.
In other words, he had heavy exposure to the chemical, which has been classified as ‘likely carcinogenic’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the state of California. This is highly disputed by other reputable agencies.
According to the FDA, “the European Food Safety Authority and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), have determined that (glyphosate) is unlikely to be a carcinogen”.
The Safety of Glyphosate
There are a lot of conflicting opinions among scientists on the safety of glyphosate.The majority of research is tainted by industry agendas and poor methodology, so I’m going to say that we just don’t know for sure about glyphosate, either way. It appears to be safe, especially the amount in the food we eat. If you’re spending your days in a cloud of it, that may be a different story.
Regardless, I’m not saying that the consumption of pesticides is desirable, but it’s a fact of life for most of us, unless we grow our own food. Otherwise, at least a portion of the things you eat have been touched by the 300 million pounds of glyphosate that is used yearly in the US. The chemical is highly regulated by the EPA and FDA in how, when, and how much of it can legally be used on crops.
Do I think lobbyists have an effect on residue allowances and regulations? Probably. Especially with this administration (someone had to say it).
And yes, I agree with those of you who believe that the maker of RoundUp, Bayer/Monsanto, appear to be shady AF.
So yes yes yes all of this.
But will your bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios kill you or your kids? That’s really what we want to figure out.
EWG’s Finding on Glyphosate in Cereal
21 oat-based cereal and snack bar products were tested by EWG for glyphosate in July and October, 2018.
All but four products contained amounts above the EWG’s benchmark for glyphosate on oats, which is 160 ppb (parts per billion).
The EPA’s oat glyphosate residue benchmark is 30 ppm (parts per million). The EPA’s benchmark is developed ‘’through a highly conservative dietary risk assessment’ and validated testing.
I’m still trying to find how the EWG set their 160 ppb benchmark, but haven’t found a satisfactory answer among their resources. They just sort of dance around the question. All they say is that 160 ppb is their idea of a safe level of glyphosate for children.
That being said, there are some issues.
I can’t find the actual ‘study’ and am thinking that this is not a research ‘study’ per se, but more like a report.
The EWG used their own scientists for the testing, and the data was not peer-reviewed by independent scientists. This means there was no oversight from anyone not affiliated with the EWG.
Pesticide residues found on the ‘contaminated’ cereals are still well below the EPA’s thresholds. The highest residue level was found on Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch: 833 ppb.
Let’s see what this number really means. Remember that citing numbers in parts per billion (EWG’s standard) versus parts per million (EPA’s standard) can be confusing.
833 PPB = 0.833 PPM. Remember: the EPA’s threshold for glyphosate on oats is 30 PPM.
DO YOU SEE WHERE I’M HEADING WITH THIS? 0.833 ppm is a minuscule fraction of the EPA’s 30 ppm limit. Meaning, you’d have to eat quite the shitload of Cheerios to even come close to 30 ppm. It wouldn’t even be possible.
Now that I’ve broken the scary numbers down, you can really see how small they really are and how far away they are from the EPA threshold, even in the ‘contaminated’ foods.
The EWG recommends organic cereals to mitigate the glyphosate ‘risk’, but this is also a great time for me to mention that the EWG receives funding from organic cereal manufacturers such as Nature’s Path. Hmmm. Isn’t that interesting. They conveniently neglect to be transparent about this relationship in any of their literature.
This is the same sort of twisted truth that the EWG uses in their Dirty Dozen list: cooking the numbers to make things seem worse than they really are, just to fit their agenda. All scare tactics, no substance.
I’m convinced that the EWG tries to stay relevant by recklessly posting crap like this. I guess in the end, it all depends on your level of tolerance for conspiracy theories, and whether you trust the EPA or EWG more.
The majority of research says that glyphosate isn’t carcinogenic. The food supply is safe. Should you take a shower in glyphosate? No. Should you worry about the minuscule amount of it in our food supply? Probably not. But I’m going to say this: I want to see more research about it. Thankfully, scientists at UBC are conducting their own research on the topic, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they find.
The levels of glyphosate on our oats is still incredibly low.
The media has blown this out of proportion as usual. ‘Full of glyphosate’, pfffft.
Pesticides are, unfortunately, everywhere. They even drift onto organic crops from non-organic ones.
Organic foods aren’t sprayed with synthetic pesticides (such as glyphosate), but they do contain pesticides. Even deadly ones.
Don’t be fear-mongered into avoiding foods, but be aware that we don’t know everything about glyphosate and other herbicides/pesticides.
The EWG has an agenda and isn’t exactly transparent.
My kids still eat Cheerios.
Want to read more debunking? Here’s my post analyzing the report on arsenic laced baby food!