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).
Happily, it seems like more and more people and media outlets are becoming wise to the fact that the EWG is merely an activist organization with ties to the organic food industry. This means that much of the EWG’s content and ‘research’ ends up being about how all of us should eat organic so we don’t poison ourselves with horrible, toxic, conventionally grown food.
Do you see the conflict of interest here?
Still, a lot of media outlets and wellness influencers post content using the EWG as a supporting source, which is just beyond disappointing. As a dietitian and someone who is evidence-based in their practice, I have often found the EWG’s ‘research’ and content to be misleading and not credible as a nutrition source.
The glyphosate in cereal topic is the perfect example of that.
Glyphosate in Cereal?
The EWG is often cited 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 justifiably scary to 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. I mean, parent-shaming gets clicks and dollars, even though it’s reprehensible and predatory.
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”.
A recent Canadian analysis of glyphosate in foods not only reinforced that glyphosate is safe to use on crops; it’s also present in minute and often undetectable amounts in our food. And for those of you non-Canadians who are wondering why Canadian crops have anything to do with you, Canada is the world’s larger exporter of oats – like the ones used in breakfast cereals.
The Safety of Glyphosate
The general consensus is that glyphosate 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.
The chemical is highly regulated by the EPA and FDA and Health Canada 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? For sure. But have legitimate studies shown that our food is toxic and harmful? Nope.
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.
Science isn’t an opinion. Maybe the EWG should understand that.
I can’t find the actual ‘study’ that found all of these metrics, and am thinking that this is not a research ‘study’ per se, but more like an EWG 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.
This is extremely problematic.
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 a ton of Cheerios to even come close to 30 ppm. It literally wouldn’t even be possible. And for those of you who are going to come @ me about accumulation of this chemical, know that glyphosate is poorly absorbed and mostly excreted within hours of consumption.
Now that I’ve broken the numbers down, you can 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.
The EWG recently doubled down on their glyphosate fear mongering with a ‘study’ about glyphosate in hummus.
In much the same manner, they – surprise! – found that your Sabra is just full of toxic glyphosate. Perhaps in a bid to be more inclusive and less biased (good luck with that), they included some organic products in their ‘research,’ but predictably, those were below the EWG’s glyphosate ‘benchmark.’
Interesting that the EWG benchmark for hummus is 160PPB, the same as their benchmark for cereal.
Just to make sure you understand, the EWG ‘benchmark’ is far below the EPA’s, it has no legitimate scientific backing that I could find, and the ‘study’ reported all the results, again, in PPB. So no, I wouldn’t look to these results as being the least bit accurate. I think they’re misleading.
I’m convinced that the EWG tries to stay relevant by recklessly posting stuff 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.
Glyphosate in Cereal, In short:
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.
The levels of glyphosate on our oats is still incredibly low. Our absorption of this chemical is extremely small.
The media and wellness influencers have blown this out of proportion as usual.
Organic foods aren’t sprayed with synthetic herbicides (such as glyphosate), but they do contain pesticides. Even deadly ones.
Don’t be fear-mongered into avoiding foods like cereal that are safe, accessible, and nutritious.
As a dietitian, I do not consider the EWG to be the least bit credible in terms of the nutrition information and what they call, ‘research.’
My kids still eat Cheerios, and so do I.
Want to read more debunking? Here’s my post analyzing the report on arsenic laced baby food!