Have a Little Carcinogenic Glyphosate With Your Morning Oatmeal

The Environmental Working Group just released an article showing the potentially cancer-causing glyphosate found in Roundup is all over the oats in your favorite cereal and health bars

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.

Quaker Oats. It’s the right thing to do.

QUAKER OATS COMMERCIAL: A hug, a kiss, and a good hot Quaker Oats breakfast: the best school day start you can get your youngster. For just as his soul is nourished by a hug and a kiss, so will his young body be nourished by a good hot breakfast of Quaker Oats.

MARC STEINER: Yeah, that’s right. That’s how most of us grew up. Quaker Oats in any- we call them hot cereal, oatmeal, whatever you want to call it. It was a way to start breakfast that sticks your ribs and keeps you going until dinner. That’s what we were told, and that’s what the wonderful actor and activist Walter Brimley told us in his Quaker Oats ads.

QUAKER OATS COMMERCIAL: Oats. Pure, 100 percent natural whole grain oats. Hot Quaker Oatmeal at breakfast is a good wholesome choice. Can really help you get through the morning. Quaker Oats. It’s the right thing to do.

MARC STEINER: Little did he know, little did most of us know, but it seems our beloved oats are full of glyphosate. Found in Roundup, and according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, glyphosate is probably cancer causing. The Environmental Working Group published a study the other day on August 15 called Breakfast with a Dose of Roundup. The woman who wrote that piece is a toxicologist. Her name is Dr. Alexis Temkin. She’s been an investigative scientist for a long time. She is on their team at the Environmental Working Group. And Alexis, welcome. Good to have you with us.

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Thanks a lot, happy to be here.

MARC STEINER: So what a way to ruin the day, starting out with our breakfast and being told that this potential cancer-causing agent is in our food. Take a step backwards for us and talk about the complexity of this research, how it began, and and how you began your research.

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Sure. So as you know, in 2015, glyphosate was identified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Since then there has been some reports of glyphosate detected in grains like [inaudible]. And some of that came from the FDA, and some of those independent scientists and independent reports. So EWG really wanted to set out and do an exploratory set of samples for oat breakfast products to see what glyphosate looks like in those products.

MARC STEINER: There are many people who will read the article and hear this news- people get very confused about this. This is a chemical found in Monsanto’s Roundup, historically used with their own other products. But this is a little different, because what we’re saying here, this is being used on fields of oats and barley and more to make the crop turn faster so they can harvest it and get it to the public. And that’s where the problem begins. Is that correct?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Yeah, that’s correct. It’s a piece of it that’s called pre-harvest application. And so you’re using glyphosate late in the season right before harvest, which can lead to high levels of glyphosate in the grains that are then used for the processed foods.

MARC STEINER: The science? Because I mean, again, when you read the story, if you don’t know science, if you don’t get into what it means to have a problem of 10 parts per 100,000, whatever that means for most people, which means nothing to most people when they read it, what does it have to do with the growth of cancer in human beings, and how that affects us?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Sure. So when you set standards for levels of probable carcinogen in food, you look at the risk, and especially the risk to vulnerable populations. In this case we’re concerned about children. So EWG worked to develop a standard that’s scientifically based to be more health protective for the vulnerable population, which is children. We used an estimate of people eating roughly 2 cups of cereals a day to get to our benchmark of 160 parts per billion. And what we’re really concerned about is lifetime exposure and long-term exposure, and what those health effects are going to be.

MARC STEINER: I mean, part of it, from what I’ve read and in interviews I’ve done before, is part of the issue, it seems, is there’s a great deal of research about why there is such a rising cancer in the world may have to do with environmental factors and things that we eat. But that’s where it seems like where most of the research money is not when it comes to trying to find out what the roots of cancer are. So how do we know, how can we be for certain that this actually is part of it? I mean, I know that it was called by some of the international agencies as a probable cause. Could you flesh that out for us?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Sure. In that classification there is considerable strong evidence in animal studies, and also evidence from epidemiological studies to make that classification. So with those data you can develop risk base levels that are protective for human health, and specifically focus on children.

MARC STEINER: And are there studies that show that in greater depth?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: It’s really hard to look at glyphosate exposure in the general population. There’s not great biomonitoring. That’s something that needs to be done to be able to really do the studies.

MARC STEINER: So one of the things that really struck me as I read your article is that Monsanto, that was taken to court, in the finding- I think it was a $289 million settlement for a person who had cancer from their exposure to the chemicals in Monsanto’s products. One of the things in the report that said that Monsanto was intentionally hiding facts from the public, much like the tobacco companies that were sued in the ’60s and ’70s. And so what do we know about that, and how is that related to or not related to the fact that the FDA seems to be sitting on some of the research itself?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: There are a couple of reports that some of the EPA data, for instance, that they used to set their guidelines can be influenced by some of the work that was done by Monsanto. They are known for what’s called ghostwriting, where some of the data they were producing that claim that glyphosate was safe, they were putting academic scientists’ names on the papers, even though they weren’t written by those academic scientists.

MARC STEINER: How can they do that? How can you put a name on a paper you didn’t write?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: That’s a decision that was made by those scientists.

MARC STEINER: So what do we take, what should public take from this? I mean, is it that we should not be eating oatmeal? Is it that more research has to be done to find the direct link? Is this more about the, kind of, the nature of corporate America and what they’re doing to hide facts from us as citizens, and how the FDA may or may not be complicit in all this? I mean, this seems to be really tangled.

ALEXIS TEMKIN: We know that pesticides and herbicides really shouldn’t be in children’s food products, and there is a way to avoid that. And that’s what we’re emphasizing, and asking companies to look at their supply chains, and source from oats that don’t use pre-harvest glyphosate.

MARC STEINER: I mean, the list of products that you tested are things that we may use every day, not just oatmeal. We’re talking about health bars, things that you buy that are seemingly organic off the shelf. Like oatmeal health bars that people buy all the time. So I mean, could you talk a bit about what you know about what’s in those things that we buy beyond the oatmeal we may or may not eat in the morning?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: So the fact remains that those oats are still nutritionally beneficial and will tend to be a healthy food. They just really shouldn’t come with an extra sort of serving of herbicide, or glyphosate. If it’s something that somebody’s concerned about, we really want them to reach out to their favorite brands and express their concern, and say that they don’t want these herbicides in their foods, and especially the ones they’re giving to their kids.

MARC STEINER: So I’m thinking about what might have been before the rise of chemical giants in our agricultural world. And people have been eating oats throughout Europe since, the since the beginning of farming. But there’s a difference here, because if you use glyphosate it’s to speed up the crop itself so it withers, so you can harvest it for cereal and other things you may consume. Right?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Yes.

MARC STEINER: So talk a bit about that. I mean, what is it that- this is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of of our food consumption. So are we suggesting that this should not, that glyphosate should be banned?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: We’re really looking at this source of exposure for glyphosate. It’s a small percentage of overall use, but can have high dietary levels for the average [inaudible] and for children. So we’re focusing on this use, this effect, and asking companies to just work with their farmers a little bit.

MARC STEINER: So would you- so talk a bit about what the effect may be on children. I mean, because it seems it’s different if you do the studies and you look at a 150 pound adult consuming these products, is different than having a child consume these products, or having these products consumed with a woman who was carrying a child. What do we know about that?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: We know that children and pregnant women are both more susceptible to the health effects of exposure to chemicals, especially carcinogens. So that’s why our value in our estimate that looks at children’s health as the most vulnerable endpoint.

MARC STEINER: So what are your next steps in the Environmental Working Group for the study?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Really working with companies and asking companies to be transparent about where they’re sourcing their oats from, and making a statement about trying to reduce the levels of glyphosate and pre-harvest glyphosate use for their oat products.

MARC STEINER: You think you’re going to have some luck with Monsanto being open about what they’re actually doing?

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Yeah, we’re definitely going to work with companies and pressure them to not have these products filled with glyphosate. And again, pesticides just really don’t belong on children’s food, and that’s what we’re working to help produce.

MARC STEINER: I really appreciate you taking time with us today. This has been really interesting, Alexis Temkin. And what we’re doing is we’re going to attach this article to our story here so you all can read it, from the Environmental Working Group. Alexis, thank you so much for your time today. We deeply appreciate it, and really appreciate the work you all do with the Environmental Working Group.

ALEXIS TEMKIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER: Take care. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks for being with us. Take care.