OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Consumers might not think their breakfast cereal could bring bits of pesticides to the kitchen table, but a new study links oats and oat-based snacks popular with children to a weed-killing poison found in Roundup, according to independent laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental health and advocacy organization.
The EWG study released Wednesday shows 43 of 45 oat cereals and oat products that were tested contained traces of glyphosate. The study found that Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oatmeal had the highest level of more than 1,000 parts per billion of the pesticide.
General Mills' popular Cheerios brand had the next highest with 530 parts per billion.
A government website listing federal regulations shows the minimum glyphosate residue allowed on cereal grains is 30,000 parts per billion, far higher than the EWG recommendations.
The Environmental Working Group says they feel a stricter limit is needed, especially because research often does not focus on long-term effects on children, who have smaller body mass than adults.
Other brands that tested positive for glyphosate included Kellog's Oat Bran, as well as granola and granola bars with oats. Even five of sixteen organic products tested had traces of glyphosate.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer, is a common pesticide in the United States. Last week a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a former school groundskeeper dying of cancer, saying the company’s popular Roundup weed killer contributed to his disease.
"This is the most widely used pesticide in the country," said Bill Walker, Vice-President of the Environmental Working Group.
"There's been a lot of controversy over whether this chemical actually has the ability to cause cancer. There's a lot of studies that say that it does, including some by California state scientists," said Walker.
Monsanto has denied a link between the active ingredient in Roundup - glyphosate - and cancer, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.
The EWG research team says there needs to be more attention and research into the risks to children over the long-term, which has not been studied.
"We're certainly not saying put that bowl of Cheerios down now or you're going to get cancer tomorrow. We're saying a pesticide like this which has the ability to increase the risk of cancer has no place in food an particularly not foods that are marketed to children," said Walker.
Dr. Jennifer Lowry, Chairperson of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health tells KTVU it is not uncommon to find pesticides in our food.
She says it's important to look at exposure levels. "At this point I don't know that we know to what extent or how much anybody would have to eat in order to have harm occur. But because we don't know that, we have to use the precautionary principal here."
Lowry recommends eating - and feeding children - a varied, healthy diet containing plenty of washed fruits and vegetables. "Give your child a varied diet so they, one, learn how to eat different foods because sometimes kids get stuck if they're only fed one thing. But two - it changes what that exposure is to the healthy stuff and unfortunately the unhealthy stuff."
She says since oats are an important part of a diet, people should not avoid eating the products based on the study. Lowry says even organic products can contain pesticides.
"If you look at the study some of the organic cereals also had elevated levels of glyphosates present and it's not because the organic farmers have sprayed the glyphosate. In order to say you're organic you have to jump through many hoops. But unfortunately not all farms around that organic farm are organic. So what happens is that glyphosate being one of the most common pesticides out there is you have what's called drift - where the other farms are spraying their crops with glyphosate. And depending on weather patterns it could drift into their farms and get onto their foods," she said.
General Mills responded Wednesday saying, "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."
Kellogg also responded, saying, "Our food is safe....(EPA) sets strict standards for safe levels of these agricultural residues and the ingredients we purchase from suppliers for our foods fall under these limits."
Quaker Oats released a statement, "We proudly stand by the safety and quality of our Quaker products. Producing healthy, wholesome food is Quaker's number one priority, and we've been doing that for more than 140 years. Quaker does not add glyphosate during any part of the milling process. Glyphosate is commonly used by farmers across the industry who apply it pre-harvest. Once the oats are transported to us, we put them through our rigorous process that thoroughly cleanses them (de-hulled, cleaned, roasted and flaked).
Any levels of glyphosate that may remain are significantly below any regulatory limits and well within compliance of the safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as safe for human consumption."
Some consumers say they are concerned. Others say the study won't change their habits now, but hope there will be more research about the health effects in the future.
'We live in such a pollutant-rich, you know, pathogen-rich environment, that I don't think it makes any sense to worry about trace elements of this or that," said Ron Fielder of Oakland. But he added, "If it could be established what a dangerous level amounts to I think that's important."