Children’s Cereal

Why it Matters

Infant and children’s cereals are cornerstones of a kid’s diet. Recent testing by CEH and others has found that commonly sold breakfast cereals contain residues of toxic chemicals such as glyphosate and arsenic without consumers’ knowledge or consent.

  • Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in American history. The weed killer is used on farms that grow corn, soybeans, oats, and hundreds of other crops. From there, it can make its way into our food, especially popular oat-based cereals. Studies have found that glyphosate can damage human cells, genes, and cause birth defects. The World Health Organization has classified it as a “probable human carcinogen.” and the California Environmental Protection Agency identifies it as a cancer-causing chemical. Biomonitoring studies have detected glyphosate in the urine samples of 70 to 93 percent of the U.S. population. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that exposure to glyphosate residues in our food has increased four times over the past quarter-century, and children are more likely to be exposed than adults – especially 1 to 2-year-olds.
  • Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and water and enters into crops as they grow. This toxic metal has been linked to cancer, brain damage in babies and children, and disrupts important hormones in our bodies. Rice absorbs and concentrates 10 times more arsenic from the environment than other cereal grains. The chemical has been found in numerous rice-based infant cereals and baby formulas. Arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods accounts for an estimated loss of up to 9.2 million IQ points among U.S. children ages 0-6 – costing the country an estimated $12-18 billion annually in lost wages.

Both arsenic and glyphosate are known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). Since natural hormones in our bodies act so powerfully in very small amounts, it is not surprising that scientists have found that EDCs can also have severe effects even in tiny doses: infertility, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and obesity, increased rates of dyslexia, mental retardation, ADHD and autism. Fetuses, babies, and children are particularly vulnerable to these chemicals in part because they are growing and developing rapidly. EDC exposures during critical developmental stages can lead to lifelong health problems and in some cases, can even affect generations to come, passing down health problems to our children’s children.

What We’re Doing

In 2018, CEH set out to hold companies accountable for selling these toxic foods to children while failing to provide parents warning labels. CEH tested a variety of oat cereals, most of which were found to contain high levels of glyphosate, including Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Honey Nut Cheerios, Great Value Os, and Kroger Toasted Oats. The organic cereals tested did not contain glyphosate. See our full list of cereals and accompanying results here.

In December of 2018, we released a follow-up report that found high levels of the toxic weed killer glyphosate in over 70 percent of the oat-based breakfast foods commonly served in K-12 schools across the country. The purpose of the report is to alert schools to the problem posed by foods with high levels of glyphosate and assist them in transitioning to healthier alternatives. CEH did not find glyphosate residues in any of the certified organic cereals tested.

CEH partnered with Healthy Babies Bright Futures to test baby cereals for arsenic and launched a report in 2018. Healthy Babies Bright Futures and a coalition of partner organizations found levels of arsenic in infant rice cereal six times higher than in infant cereals made from other ingredients. With 84 percent less arsenic in non-rice and multi-grain cereals than in infant rice cereal, choosing alternative non-rice cereals is an effective and immediate action that parents can take to lower their baby’s arsenic exposures.

What You Can Do

Switching to organic breakfasts in the short-term, and advocating for stronger chemical regulation in the long-term, is beneficial to all eaters, including people who are exposed to the highest levels of pesticides because of their work. Organic foods are safer to eat and safer to grow while also making our shared environment cleaner and fairer for everybody. Consumers should avoid cereals with glyphosate by buying organic cereals whenever possible.

Parents are also urged to choose safer alternatives to infant rice cereals, our study found significantly lower arsenic levels in mixed grain, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and wheat cereals, making each a safer alternative to rice cereal.

Resources

CEH Op-Ed: There’s a Toxic Weed Killer on the Menu in K-12 Schools Across the US
CEH Report: Getting Toxic Chemicals off the Menu: A School Guide to Safer Cereals 
CEH Report: Glyphosate in School Cereals
CEH Press Release: CEH study finds toxic weed killer glyphosate in multiple popular children’s cereals
CEH In the News: CEH Interviewed on KIQI San Francisco About Glyphosate Findings in Children’s Cereal
CEH In the News: 8 Ways to Reduce your Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals
CEH Webinar: Healthy Food, Healthy Students
CEH Fact Sheet: Glyphosate and Safer Cereals