Oatmeal and other oat-based products have become a thing of the past for many American families following test results indicating concerning levels of glyphosate. As a result, a demand for glyphosate-free oats has ramped up over the last few months – and for good reason.
The use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant (aka. drying agent) on wheat and other cereal grains isn’t new. It has been an established practice since the 1980’s, and has since become routine in North America over the last 15 years or so (1). Use is also widespread in the UK.
What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate is a herbicide used to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. It is the active ingredient in Roundup, and other herbicide formulations, and is also used as a means to quickly ripen crops (desiccation) (2).
Plants targeted by glyphosate absorb the chemical through their leaves and other green parts. At this point, glyphosate moves to the growing points of shoots and roots, where it disrupts the enzymatic production of certain amino acids essential for plant growth (like the Shikimate pathway).
Companies claim that there is very low risk to animals because the Shikimate pathway only exists in bacteria, plants and fungi. What these companies don’t realize is that our guts are home to billions of beneficial bacteria that we require to stay healthy. Glyphosate has been shown to target these beneficial bacteria, and could be the reason why those who consume conventional wheat and other glyphosate-sprayed products have so many gut issues (like leaky gut).
What makes glyphosate even more harmful is the other ingredients (adjuvants) it is mixed with to create formulations like Roundup. Adjuvants in Roundup enhance pesticide/herbicide stability and penetration into cells, making glyphosate much more dangerous than it already is. Studies have found that formulations that include both glyphosate and adjuvants were more toxic than glyphosate alone on all human cell lines (3).
Unfortunately, it’s not just glyphosate sprayed on those fields during desiccation. It’s the whole package; glyphosate and adjuvants combined. Which, as you might have guessed, isn’t the best news for those consuming residues of the stuff.
Dangers of Glyphosate and Glyphosate-Based Herbicides
Glyphosate is not meant to be consumed, or in our bodies, period. There is no safe level for glyphosate. A new study called The Global Glyphosate Study set out to determine whether the levels of glyphosate set as “safe” by the U.S. EPA are actually safe. The results? They’re not safe. Instead, they’re linked to microbiome imbalances and damage our DNA (also known as genotoxicity). This brings me to my first point: gut disturbance.
1. Gut Disturbance
As described above, glyphosate interferes with the Shikimate pathway, which is an enzymatic pathway found in bacteria, plants and fungi. This pathway is also present in the bacteria in our guts, so when we consume foods that have glyphosate residue, the glyphosate targets these bacteria and essentially kills them. This can lead to conditions like leaky gut, where the gut becomes permeable and allows undigested food stuffs into our bloodstream (not good).
What ends up happening is that people start experiencing gut disturbances like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and even celiac disease. Even FISH exposed to glyphosate develop digestive problems reminiscent of celiac disease (4).
Glyphosate is known to inhibit an enzyme called cytochrome P450. This enzyme is responsible for detoxifying environmental toxins, activating vitamin D3, catabolizing vitamin A and maintaining bile acid production and sulfate supplies to the gut. Not so surprisingly, those with celiac disease are often found with impaired P450 enzymes (5).
It is also curious to note that deaths due to intestinal infection have increased exponentially with glyphosate applications to wheat (see figure here).
In addition, glyphosate has long been known to have antibiotic function. Many studies have shown how glyphosate has a much worse effect on beneficial bacterial strains than those considered to be pathogenic (6).
2. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a Category 2A carcinogen (probable carcinogen) after the review of four studies that showed elevated frequencies of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in occupationally exposed workers (7, 8, 9, 10). While the exact mechanism is not known, it is usually glyphosate-based herbicides that have a more toxic effect than glyphosate alone (as I discussed above).
Evidence suggests that the surfactants present in GBHs (especially the chemical POE-15) are a major driver of GBH-induced DNA damage, as well as lethality. These surfactants have been found to be incredibly toxic to human embryonic and placental cells, on their own, at levels as low as 1 part per million (ppm) (11).
The main degradation product of glyphosate, α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA), is also a cause for concern, as it has potential to cause DNA mutation and damage (12). Unfortunately, not many studies take AMPA into account when calculating total exposure, which can lead to incomplete results.
3. Endocrine Disruption
Glyphosate also affects our endocrine system, which includes a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood.
Again, glyphosate alone didn’t seem to produce much of an effect in one study, but full Roundup formulations were found to reduce androgen receptor-induced transcription linearly at low doses (13). Full Roundup formulations also significantly changed progression of puberty and decreased serum testosterone in prepubertal Wistar rats exposed from 5 mg/kg once per day (14).
As stated in a scientific review titled ‘Glyphosate-based herbicides and cancer risk: a post-IARC decision review of potential mechanisms, policy and avenues of research’, “the effects of glyphosate at very low concentrations may be underinvestigated. Via endocrine mimicry, very low levels of glyphosate might potentiate human carcinogenesis, even if under regulatory limits currently considered to be safe” (15).
New Bill will Ensure Glyphosate-Free Oats
Thankfully, we might not have to worry about pre-harvest glyphosate-sprayed oats for long. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rosa DeLauro, wants the federal government to ban the use of glyphosate on oats before harvest.
The bill, called “Keep Food Safe from Glyphosate Act,” would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to routinely test food for glyphosate residues. It would also prohibit spraying of glyphosate on oats as a pre-harvest drying agent (16).
Key provisions in DeLauro’s bill include:
– Prohibiting the spraying of glyphosate as a pre-harvest drying agent on oats
– Lowering by 300-fold the permissible level of glyphosate residues on oats, restoring the legally allowed level to just 0.1 parts per million (ppm)
– Requiring the Department of Agriculture to regularly test fruits, vegetables and other foods routinely fed to infants and children for glyphosate residues.
“We applaud Rep. DeLauro for once again advocating on behalf of children’s health,” said Colin O’Neil, EWG’s legislative director.
“No parent should worry whether feeding their children healthy oat-based foods will also expose them to a chemical linked to cancer. We know farmers can harvest oats without glyphosate, and to protect kids’ health, this needlessly risky practice must stop.”
If passed, the bill could change the country’s priorities in terms of how it focuses on children’s health.
Companies with Glyphosate-Free Oats
You don’t need to wait for the new bill to come into effect. There are many companies out there that ensure their oat products are free of glyphosate residues.
And when I talk oats – I’m talking all products that use oats as an ingredient (like oat flour, rolled oats, etc.). This means that conventional products like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and essentially any oat ingredient that is not organic likely has glyphosate contamination.
With that being said, there are similar alternatives to these products that you can purchase with peace of mind that you’re not eating glyphosate for breakfast. The thing about organic oat ingredients (or anything organic for that matter) is that they can become contaminated by air drift or water contamination via neighboring fields. Organic will always be better, but until companies start testing their products rigorously and making the results of those tests public, we won’t know for certain if their products are 100% glyphosate-free.
Here are some companies you can trust for glyphosate-free oat ingredients:
– Barbara’s Organic Honest O’s
– Go Raw Sprouted Granola
– Nature’s Path Organic Oatmeal
– Nature’s Path Organic Cereal
– Annie’s Homegrown Organic
– Soul Sprout Granola and Granola Bars
– One Degree Rolled Oats
Voting with your dollar is one of the best ways to ensure larger companies like General Mills and Kellogg’s gets the message that we want glyphosate out of our food! A higher demand for organic will ensure that we keep ourselves healthy, and our planet, too.