Health & Fitness

A pesticide’s active ingredient might be in your kids’ breakfast. Don’t worry about it.

An Environmental Working Group report that many oat-based, kid-consumed breakfast cereals — including Lucky Charms, Cheerios and Quaker Oats — have unsafe levels of pesticide ingredient glyphosate frightened parents and cereal lovers around the country Thursday.

Isn’t glyphosate what makes Monsanto herbicide Roundup work? And wasn’t Roundup cast as the main cancer-causing culprit in the $289 million jury verdict for former school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson last week?

Yes and yes. But EWG’s own report undercuts the terror in the title, “Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s September 1993 analysis of glyphosate says, “in a worst-case risk scenario ... the chronic dietary risk posed by glyphosate food uses is minimal. A reference dose, or estimate of daily exposure that would not cause adverse effects throughout a lifetime, of 2 mg/kg/day has been proposed for glyphosate.”

But to determine the standard of what’s unsafe, EWG doesn’t use the EPA’s standard. Nor does the group use California’s much lower standard of 1.1 mg per day (for a 154-pound adult). Crossing the California standard moves the cancer chances to one in 100,000 for an average adult.

EWG extrapolated the glyphosate standard it applied for testing by applying a couple of adjustments to California’s standard.

First, EWG decided to use California’s line for drinking water contaminants, which has a stricter standard than the EPA’s. Then, EWG used the increased vulnerability of children, whose immune systems aren’t fully developed, as the reason to apply the “10 times safety factor” in the 1996 EPA Food Quality Protection Act.

“With this additional children’s health safety factor, EWG calculated that a one-in-a-million cancer risk would be posed by ingestion of 0.01 milligrams of glyphosate per day,” EWG’s report states.

“To reach this maximum dose, one would only have to eat a single 60-gram serving of food with a glyphosate level of 160 parts per billion, or ppb,” EWG’s report continues. “The majority of samples of conventional oat products from EWG’s study exceeded 160ppb, meaning that a single serving of those products would exceed EWG’s health benchmark.”

That’s a standard that’s 1/100th the amount of glyphosate California considers safe for adults and about 1/200th of what the EPA says you can eat daily without a problem. Grading on the EWG’s curve, 31 of 45 products failed the testing done for EWG by Eurofin Analytical Laboratories.

EWG says a 60-gram serving would be two cups of Cheerios (average of 497ppb in EWG’s tests) or 3/4 cup of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats (average of 930ppb in EWG’s tests). That’s about 1/4 cup less than a single soup bowl of cereal. As for the Quaker Oats, Quaker’s directions say 3/4 cup is enough for one-and-a half servings.

While both Cheerios and Quaker Old Fashioned Oats exceed the EWG standard, neither comes close to being a problem under the California standard or the EPA standard. You’d have to eat almost 28 bowls of Cheerios per day or 26 servings of Old Fashioned Oats for the state of California to consider your breakfast a cancer risk.