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Study raises concerns after finding pesticide contamination in 'overwhelming majority' of popular breakfast cereals — here's what you need to know

The chemical was present in 92% of non-organic oat-based foods tested in May 2023.

The chemical was present in 92% of non-organic oat-based foods tested in May 2023.

Photo Credit: iStock

Cereal is a staple for breakfast in many homes, but a recent study will have families thinking twice about consuming some of their favorite brands.

What's happening?

As explained by CBS News in February, the Environmental Working Group conducted a study that found the pesticide chlormequat, which has been linked to reproductive issues, in "the overwhelming majority of samples of oat-based foods sold in the United States, including popular cereal brands Quaker Oats and Cheerios." 

The chemical was "detected in 77 of 96 urine samples taken from 2017 and 2023, with levels increasing in the most recent years," CBS News stated. To make matters worse, research published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology determined that chlormequat was present in 92% of non-organic oat-based foods tested in May 2023, which included common cereals.

The cereal brands have pushed back against the notion that their products have been contaminated by the harmful pesticide.

"All our products adhere to all regulatory requirements," a spokesperson for General Mills told CBS MoneyWatch in a statement. "Food safety is always our top priority at General Mills, and we take care to ensure our food is prepared and packaged in the safest way possible."

Quaker Oats stated: "We have a comprehensive food safety management system in place. We adhere to all regulatory guidelines to ensure the safest, highest quality products for our consumers."

Why is this important?

Chlormequat is a chemical that is used as a growth regulator, but EPA regulations allow for it to be used only on ornamental plants grown in the United States, per CBS News. However, the National Library of Medicine found that it has also been used in the commercial production of cereal grains in order to facilitate harvesting.

Since 2018, chlormequat has been allowed to be used on imported oats and other foods sold across the United States. CBS News noted that the EPA is "now proposing to let chlormequat be used on barley, oat, triticale and wheat grown" in the country. The EWG made it clear that it opposes that plan.

Studies have found that chlormequat causes infertility in animals by disrupting fetal growth and damaging the reproductive system. The EWG determined that these findings are enough to be concerned about "whether it could also harm humans."

What's being done about this?

If you're looking to minimize your exposure to harmful pesticides, consider opting for organic, pesticide-free foods when possible. The EWG found that just one out of seven organic samples contained low levels of chlormequat.

"Until the government fully protects consumers, you can reduce your exposure to chlormequat by choosing products made with organic oats, which are grown without synthetic pesticides such as chlormequat," the EWG stated.

While organic produce sold in grocery stores may be out of financial reach for some consumers, growing your own food at home is another way to minimize your exposure. In addition to saving people hundreds of dollars every year, gardening benefits both mental and physical health. Some foods can even be grown right on your windowsill.

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