Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, may be accumulating in higher levels in kids than in their parents, according to a biomonitoring study by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a nonprofit group focused on protecting people from toxins.1
Glyphosate has made headlines for landmark lawsuits, in which plaintiffs have been awarded billions in damages after juries agreed the chemical was responsible for their cancer diagnoses. Glyphosate is often associated with genetically engineered (GE) crops, as Roundup Ready GE crops are designed to survive direct dousing of Roundup.
This is a major usage for the chemical, but it’s not the only way people are being exposed. Glyphosate is also found in a staggering amount of non-GE foods, as it’s used as a desiccant, or drying agent, to speed up harvesting of non-GE grains and legumes.
As a result, popular foods among children, like breakfast cereal and oatmeal, may be among the most glyphosate-contaminated foods on the market, and could be driving up exposures in this vulnerable population.
Children are more exposed to glyphosate than adults
The CEH study involved 11 families who lived in California, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Vermont. Urine samples from parents and children were tested for glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), the main metabolite of glyphosate, to reveal recent exposures to the chemical.
Only two of the people in the study (a parent and a child) were free from glyphosate, while the rest — 91% — had measurable quantities. Results for AMPA were similar.
When the level of glyphosate was factored in, in nine of the 12 parent-child pairs, the child’s body had higher concentrations of glyphosate than the adult. According to CEH, “We just completed a small study to help answer an important question: Are children more exposed to glyphosate than adults? Based on our results, the answer to this question is yes.”2
A probable human carcinogen and endocrine disrupter
It’s a concerning finding, as in 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer categorized glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” Further, evidence suggests pesticides are associated with chronic health conditions, including neurodevelopmental or behavioral problems, birth defects, asthma and cancer, in children.3
Glyphosate is also an endocrine disrupter, which may, “affect our body at extremely low levels,” Sue Chaing, the pollution prevention director at the CEH, said in a news release.4 In a 2018 report, CEH explained three key reasons why glyphosate’s endocrine-disrupting properties are especially dangerous for children:5
“One, they interfere with the body’s hormonal signals and processes in ways that can cause cancer, diabetes, strokes, and reproductive problems. Even more alarming is that EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] can cause health issues that are passed on to future generations.
The third key reason EDC exposure is so worrisome is that many of these chemicals appear to be most harmful in low, long-term exposures, the kind of dose one would be exposed to by eating foods containing trace amounts of glyphosate.
Infants and children are especially vulnerable to EDC exposure as they are coming into contact with these chemicals precisely when their growing bodies are undergoing fundamental developmental processes mediated by hormones.”
What’s more, as noted in the journal Pediatrics, “[C]hildren’s unique behaviors and metabolic rate often place them at risk for absorption of higher doses from contaminated environments in comparison with adults.”6
Children, for instance, consume more food and fluids per pound of body weight compared to adults, making their exposure greater, relatively speaking. They also put their hands in their mouths more often and spend more time on the floor, where greater exposure to contamination via household dust and carpeting may occur.7
However, in kids it’s likely that greater consumption of glyphosate-contaminated foods targeting children could be a primary culprit in their increased levels compared to adults.
Lots of glyphosate-contaminated cereal is targeted at kids
Oat-based foods, such as oatmeal, cereals and bread, are common breakfast foods for kids, but many contain glyphosate residues. In testing done by Friends of the Earth (FOE), 100% of oat cereal samples tested positive for residues of glyphosate.8
For the study, 132 samples of house brands were tested, from more than 30 U.S. stores in 15 states. Residues of glyphosate and other pesticides — neonicotinoids and organophosphates — were found.
The average level of glyphosate in cereal samples was 360 parts per billion (ppb), which FOE noted is more than twice the level set by Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists for lifetime cancer risk in children. Some of the cereal samples contained residues as high as 931 ppb.
EWG has also commissioned glyphosate testing on oat-based cereal and snack products and found it in all 21 products tested. All but four of them came in higher than EWG’s benchmark for lifetime cancer risk in children.9
In previous EWG testing, 43 out of 45 food products made with conventionally grown oats tested positive for glyphosate, 31 of which had glyphosate levels higher than EWG scientists believe would be protective of children’s health.10
Examples of foods with glyphosate residues include Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch (833 ppb), Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios (400 ppb) and Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars (312 to 566 ppb).11 In EWG’s first round of testing, the highest glyphosate level — 2,837 ppb — was found in Quaker Oatmeal Squares breakfast cereal.12
School cafeterias serving glyphosate-contaminated foods
CEH looked into how much glyphosate could be found in oat-based breakfast foods being served in K-12 schools across the U.S. In testing products often served for breakfast in school cafeterias, they found 70% contained glyphosate at concerning levels.
“Items found to contain the highest levels of the toxic herbicide include Quaker Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal and Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats. CEH did not find glyphosate residues in any of the certified organic cereals we tested,” CEH wrote.13 The last part is noteworthy, as research shows that eating organic leads to lower levels of pesticides in your body.
A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at the diets of nearly 4,500 people living in six U.S. cities, assessing exposure levels to organophosphates (OPs), which are among the most commonly used insecticides on U.S. farms. Those who ate conventionally grown produce were found to have high concentrations of OP metabolites, whereas those who ate organic produce had significantly lower levels.14
Eating organic is one of the best ways to avoid food with glyphosate residues, but even then you may be exposed via other sources, as glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide on Earth.15 The data on just how much glyphosate is sprayed in the U.S. is mind boggling, and adds up to over 1.6 billion kilograms (3.5 billion pounds) applied since 1974.
This represents 19% of the glyphosate used globally during that time, and the majority (two-thirds of glyphosate applied from 1974 to 2014) has been applied in the last 10 years.16
Why eating organic oat-based foods is important
Roundup is “applied as a desiccant to most small nongenetically modified grains.” So for both GE crops and non-GE grains, glyphosate “is found in these crops at harvest.”17 The EPA has been raising the allowable level of glyphosate residue in foods, even as health concerns continue to mount. According to EWG:18
“The EPA’s legal limit on glyphosate residues is 30 parts per million, or ppm. The petition, joined by 18 industry leaders, asks the EPA to set a more protective standard of 0.1 ppm, which was the legal limit in 1993. Over the past 25 years, the EPA has increased the amount of glyphosate residue allowed on oats 300fold.
The first increase, to 20 ppm, was granted in response to a 1997 petition from Monsanto, when farmers around the world first began using glyphosate widely as a late-season drying agent.
It was increased to the current 30 ppm level in 2008. Since then, scientists have linked glyphosate to cancer, and researchers around the world have called for stricter limits on glyphosate exposures.”
A study in the Midwest found glyphosate in up to 93% of pregnant mothers,19 and it’s turning up virtually everywhere — in breastmilk, water,20 disposable diapers21 and even honey. This is why you should choose organic foods as much as possible, especially if your children eat oat-based foods.
The same holds true for pinto beans. In pinto beans, glyphosate levels were found up to 1,128 ppb, although average glyphosate levels were 509 ppb — 4.5 times higher than EWG’s benchmark.22
If you want to avoid glyphosate in your food, choose organic or biodynamically grown foods, which are not genetically engineered or sprayed with glyphosate as a desiccant. You can help to prompt change by reaching out to the companies that make your food. Let them know that you prefer foods without glyphosate residues — and are prepared to switch brands if necessary to find them.
CEH also recommends that parents contact their children’s schools and request organic foods and phasing out the use of glyphosate on school grounds.23 According to CEH:24
“Schools across the country are buying more organic food and ending the use of glyphosate on school grounds. Ask your school if they are interested! Towns and cities are also ending the use of glyphosate and other pesticides in parks and playgrounds. Ask your city councilor or other elected official if they want to join this growing movement.”
You can find out how much glyphosate is in your body
If you’re curious how much glyphosate is in your body, the Health Research Institute (HRI) in Iowa developed the glyphosate urine test kit, which will allow you to determine your own exposure to this toxic herbicide.
Ordering this kit automatically allows you to participate in the study and helps HRI better understand the extent of glyphosate exposure and contamination. In a few weeks, you will receive your results, along with information on how your results compare with others and what to do to help reduce your exposure.
We are providing these kits to you at no profit in order for you to participate in this environmental study. HRI is also in the process of doing hair testing for glyphosate, which is a better test for long-term exposure.