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New report finds controversial herbicide in Cheerios, Quaker Oats. Here's why that matters

Boxes of General Mills Cheerios cereal sit on display in a market in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Boxes of General Mills Cheerios cereal sit on display in a market in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Careful about giving your child Cheerios or Quaker Oats cereals. There might be herbicides.

And herbicides may increase a child’s risk for cancer.

Earlier this week, an environmental research and advocacy group found traces of herbicide in Cheerios, Quaker Oats and a number of other breakfast foods, according to The New York Times.

The Environmental Working Group said it tested 45 samples of breakfast foods and found traces of glyphosate in 31 of them. These foods were made from oats grown in fields that were sprayed with herbicides.

In fact, Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, which is one of the healthiest foods on the list of breakfast foods from the research, had the highest level of the weedkiller, according to Quartz.

Quaker responded to the news in a statement to Fortune.

“We proudly stand by the safety and quality of our Quaker products. Quaker does not add glyphosate during any part of the milling process. Glyphosate is commonly used by farmers across the industry who apply it pre-harvest.”

General Mills also responded to the findings in a statement sent to Fast Company.

"Our products are safe and without question they meet regulatory safety levels. The EPA has researched this issue and has set rules that we follow as do farmers who grow crops including wheat and oats. We continue to work closely with farmers, our suppliers and conservation organizations to minimize the use of pesticides on the crops and ingredients we use in our foods."

The debate has raged for years about the potential damage of herbicides, specifically about whether they lead to cancer, according to The New York Times.

Scott Partridge, a vice president at Monsanto, the company that developed the herbicide and turned it into a popular weedkiller, told The New York Times he doesn't think it causes cancer. He said the Environmental Working Group is an activist group.

“They have an agenda,” he said. “They are fearmongering. They distort science.”

Monsanto responded to the report in a statement to Quartz.

“The EWG’s claim about cancer is false. Glyphosate does not cause cancer. Glyphosate has a more than 40-year history of safe use. Over those four decades, researchers have conducted more than 800 scientific studies and reviews that prove glyphosate is safe for use.”

But last week, a California jury found that Monsanto failed to warn a school groundskeeper about a potential cancer risk increase from its herbicides, according to MarketWatch.

The groundskeeper’s lawyers said he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using the weedkiller during his job.

“The jury awarded him $39.2 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The World Health Organization calls glyphosate a probable carcinogen.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a risk assessment that “concludes that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The Agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label.”