Are Cheerios and Quaker Oats safe? Experts weigh in on new pesticide concerns.

Should you give up that morning bowl of cereal or oatmeal?

That’s what some may be wondering in light of a study released this week by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on agricultural and chemical safety laws in the United States. The study looked at the prevalence of a pesticide called chlormequat in oat-based food products, including cereals like Cheerios and Quaker Oats.

The EWG said it found detectable levels of the chemical in 92% of non-organic oat-based foods purchased in May 2023.

“Studies in laboratory animals show that chlormequat can cause damage to the normal growth and development of the fetus and damage the reproductive system,” Olga Naidenko, vice president of the EWG, told MarketWatch. Those risks, she notes the EWG report, may include reduced fertility.

The substance has not been shown to affect humans in the same way that the studies cited by EWG found it to affect laboratory animals, and there are other studies that found chlormequat had no effect on reproduction in pigs or mice, or no impact on fertilization. rates in mice.

However, the EWG continues to advocate for affected consumers to purchase organic oat products as an alternative.

“Certified organic oats are, by law, grown without synthetic pesticides,” Naidenko said.

Representatives for General Mills GIS,
the company that produces Cheerios and PepsiCo PEP,
which owns Quaker Oats, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Any family raising children or thinking of starting a family should do everything they can to avoid chlormequat. It is not a safe product.’

— Charles Benbrook, a scientific consultant who focuses on pesticides

The EWG’s recommendation to go organic was echoed by experts contacted by MarketWatch.

Charles Benbrook, a Washington state-based science consultant who focuses on pesticides, said he is an oatmeal eater who chooses organic oatmeal “when I can get it.”

As for chlormequat, Benbrook said, “It is not a safe product.”

“Any family raising children or thinking of starting a family should do everything they can to avoid chlormequat,” he said.

Melissa Furlong, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona, said it’s important to note that chlormequat is not the only pesticide found in oat-based cereals. There is still much to learn about the health effects the substance might have on humans, she added.

“That’s not to say it’s not the worst [pesticide]. We don’t really know,” Furlong said.

According to the EWG, chlormequat has not been approved for use on food crops grown in the United States, but can be found in oats and oat products from other countries. Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency began allowing such products to be imported into the United States, EWG noted, which is why chlormequat can be found in some grains sold in this country.

The EPA is considering approval of chlormequat for use on crops grown in the United States, according to the agency’s website. In a call for public comment on the proposed decision, the agency said: “Based on EPA’s human health risk assessment, there are no dietary, residential, or aggregate risks (i.e., combined dietary and residential exposures) that cause concern.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For her part, Furlong said that although she usually buys organic oat products, she isn’t strict about it and might still buy an occasional box of Cheerios.

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