The last few years have seen all sorts of scary stories pop up about our favourite foods. Whether it’s E. coli lurking in your lettuce or salmonella smuggled inside your Goldfish crackers, it seems that we are going through a peculiarly prolific period for food poisoning.
Previously, these crises have all revolved around foods that are fairly easy to avoid. As worrying as E. coli is, Romaine lettuce isn’t what most people like to reach for first thing after waking up. Now, however, there is a new scare sweeping across the world that’s closely connected to one of our favourite morning rituals. In disastrous news for breakfast lovers, evidence is growing that your cereal could in fact be poisonous.
Unlike traditional food poisoning scandals, the new breakfast cereal epidemic has nothing to do with a nasty bacteria or virus. Thanks to extensive testing in countries such as The United States and The UK, it has become clear that a cancer causing chemical has been detected in a range of cereals and breakfast snacks commonly eaten by both adults and children.
The argument revolves around the compound glyphosate - an ingredient prominently used in popular weed killers around the world. Earlier this month, agrochemical and biotech company Monsanto were successfully sued for nearly $300 million by an ex-school gardener who claimed that he had developed cancer after using the business’ weeding product, “Round-Up”. The same chemicals that were deemed to have damaged the plaintiff in that case were also discovered in a variety of different food products.
Hundreds of businesses have been affected by the chemical spread. According to the Environmental Working Group, an American public health watchdog, all but two out of 45 oat-based food samples that they tested were free from carcinogenic glyphosate. Products produced by leading brands such as Quaker, Kellogg's and Cheerios were found to have some of the highest levels of the chemical, which is believed to contaminate food as weed killer is applied to crops.
According to EWG, the benchmark for safe levels of glyphosate to be present within food is a maximum of 160 parts per billion for children. Yet, testing revealed that some samples contained levels up to 1000 ppb - far higher than what the watchdog considers to be safe.
There is also growing political anger about the issue, as senior figures start to demand straight answers to difficult questions. According to leading Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, the Food and Drug Administration has already compiled over two-years of testing around the probable cancer causing effects of glyphosate, but is withholding the results from the public. Uncertainty over the issue is beginning to filter into public discourse.
However, despite the recent court ruling against Monsanto and the studies published by the EWG, many are still sceptical over just how dangerous the chemical actually is. The EU cleared glyphosate for industrial use, and at least one other report claims that the levels that are being found in food are insufficient to have any lasting health impacts. These mixed messages are just adding to what is already an incredibly confusing situation.
Regardless of whether or not the chemical ingredients in many popular cereal brands are actually as dangerous as some believe, there’s little doubt that there are at least some unwanted additions hiding in our food. Even if it turns out that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer, there is still know what that we should be unwittingly eating weed killer. Regardless of what future studies reveal, it’s clear we need to pay extra attention to what’s in our food.