On Wednesday, the prominent consumer-advocacy group Environmental Working Group, or EWG, released a report that found glyphosate, a common herbicide, in breakfast foods. The report, which focuses on cereals, granola bars, and oatmeal, determined that out of the 45 products tested, only two were free from traces of the herbicide. Twelve samples contained amounts of glyphosate that were lower than what the EWG believes is harmful to consume, and 31 of the samples contained levels of glyphosate higher than this benchmark.
“Glyphosate has been linked to an elevated risk of cancer and classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization, as probably carcinogenic to humans,” Olga Naidenko, the EWG’s senior science adviser for children’s environmental health, told me.
But glyphosate’s danger is contentious. It was introduced into the U.S. consumer market in 1974, and in 1985 the Environmental Protection Agency determined the herbicide to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Then, in 1991, the agency rescinded that determination, declaring “evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans.”
Things haven’t gotten any clearer since. As Naidenko alludes to, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, determined glyphosate to be a “probable” carcinogenic hazard in 2014. That same year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office admonished the Food and Drug Administration, which monitors EPA standards in food, for failing to disclose that the FDA had not been testing for glyphosate, and it took issue with the FDA’s current herbicide-residue-testing program. A year later, it was revealed that the FDA would finally begin testing for the herbicide in food. Those findings have not yet been made public.