Glyphosate in Cheerios? Let’s Talk About It.

I didn’t plan on writing this, but then a TikTok went viral this week that um…presented an opportunity. 

It was a (now removed) “foods I’ll never eat again” video, and the creator kicked off her list with a staple in many households, Cheerios.

Her rationale is based on this cereal being “known to have really high glyphosate residues.” She goes on, claiming that this is because Cheerios are made with oats, which are genetically modified (they’re not though), and therefore exposed to more chemicals – like glyphosate. 

Why is she calling out glyphosate? Because it’s been linked to cancer.  

Whew. Sounds pretty scary, right? Especially since many of us feed Cheerios to our KIDS?! And wait, oats are causing cancer now?! 

Before you run to clean out your pantry, let’s get some things straight. 

glyphosate in cheerios registered dietitian

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is an herbicide. You probably know it as Roundup. Maybe you’ve even seen people on the internet yelling about Roundup being in your food? I definitely have.

Chatter about glyphosate blew up when a number of civil lawsuits emerged back in 2018, claiming that this chemical causes cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer looked into the risks and did, in fact, conclude that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In other words, they’re saying the risk is possible.

But then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and European Food Safety Authorities chimed in with their own insight, saying that the herbicide probably wasn’t giving people cancer. Hmm.

Here’s what we do know.

The lawsuits originated from people directly exposed to glyphosate.

The person in the Cheerios TikTok and many others before her always seem to leave this part out. The (mixed) research that makes the connection between glyphosate and cancer pertains to people who are directly exposed to the chemical. The farmers and people who are literally spraying Roundup on the crops. Not people eating food that may contain it.

glyphosate in cheerios parts per billion

Source: EWG

How much glyphosate is in Cheerios?

Obviously no one is spraying Cheerios with Roundup before it’s boxed up and shipped to your local grocery store. However,  glyphosate is occasionally sprayed on oats as a drying agent. So it’s not surprising that glyphosate has been detected in Cheerios by the EWG, a non-profit activist group.

But how much? 

Small amounts. Like really small. Parts per BILLION (ppb) small. 

To put it in perspective, an average-sized person would need to eat THOUSANDS of servings of Cheerios every single day to ingest a comparable amount of glyphosate to those who come in direct contact with it and therefore may have an increased risk for cancer.

As they say, the dose makes the poison.

As I’m writing this, the original TikTok is no longer on the creator’s feed. I’ll leave a response by Food Science Babe, a food scientist, here so you can see some of the original comments too.

@foodsciencebabe Stop 👏🏼 demonizing 👏🏼 safe 👏🏼 less expensive 👏🏼 more accessible 👏🏼 foods 👏🏼 This is so disappointing to see from someone that should understand food science and agriculture. Hence why the appeal to authority fallacy is a logical fallacy. Check out my many other videos on all of these topics as well. @foodsciencebabe #foodscience #cheerios #healthyfood #ramen ♬ original sound – Food Science Babe

Fear is a red flag for misinformation

The point of this article isn’t to debate whether or not glyphosate is safe. I’ll never claim to be a food scientist, and I’ll never shame someone for wanting to learn more about ingredients or the impact of chemicals used in our food system. 

It’s the fact that the “foods I’ll never eat” videos make my skin crawl. Why? Because they’re almost always used to cause FEAR. I get that this approach gets views, but I instantly question the credibility of the creator anytime I see it.

Is it good to know how to read a label and be aware of what you’re eating? Of course. Do some people need to avoid certain ingredients due to health conditions, food sensitivities, intolerances, etc.? You bet. 

But generalizing and calling certain foods BAD or saying they’re “killing you” is irresponsible. These statements completely disregard that each and every one of us has different needs not only physiologically, but also socially and economically.

Why do people eat Cheerios? They’re affordable, shelf stable, accessible, and a good source of iron and fiber. Some families buy them for their picky kids, or to have an easy on-the-go snack for their toddler. They’re WIC-approved and they’re an easy finger food for toddlers working on their pincer grasp.

What good does it do to guilt a parent about feeding their kids Cheerios? Or ANY food? Especially if the amounts they’re consuming are probably far FAR below anything that would significantly increase risk. We can’t ignore that anxiety over food has long term health effects too.

From my POV, it’s much more valuable to educate parents about ways to add variety and MORE nutrition to their family’s diet. 

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8 thoughts on “Glyphosate in Cheerios? Let’s Talk About It.”

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  1. Erin says:

    Hello! Earth and environmental science teacher here-

    So the controversy over Glyphosate is pretty old at this point, but it’s pretty easy to agree on a few things about it.

    1: The stuff is bad news in the long run. Glyphosate is an herbicide that effectively prevents plants from being able to form or maintain the fibers that allow them to stand. Spray it on plants, they die. Any plant, all plants. To be able to use it specifically as a weed killer in conjunction with crops (which are also plants, but we need those ones to live) Glyphosate has been made and marketed by Monsanto in conjunction with something called ’round-up ready’ crops- specially modified versions of crop seeds that are glyphosate resistant. This is a problem because planitng like this encourages monoculture, which is bad for the genetic diversity of our food in general. Its’ also a bad thing because in short order it has created ‘super weeds’, weeds that also exhibit resistance to glyphosate, and now are causing major problems for farmers.

    2: There is a LOT of controversy over legislation regarding glyphosate, given the amount of money that has been poured into the stuff by Monsanto. Much of the research on it is actually questionable because it’s hard to find any that has been done and then peer reviewed by people who are in no way touched by glyphosate production funding. It’s a surprisingly tight and small research community and it’s hard to tell who is and isn’t being paid. Research does indicate that lots of direct exposure to the stuff probably is carcinogenic.

    3: We overuse the stuff like crazy. Cheerios are probably mentioned specifically because Monsanto recommends a second treatment of glyphosate once your crops are already grown to help them mature and dry at the very end of the growth cycle. This process is recommended for all sorts of oats, grains and wheat. Extra glyphosate there.
    Cheerios are honestly the least of your worries if you’re worried about exposure- American farmers use tens of thousands of pounds of the stuff every year. If you’re trying to avoid it, you’re gonna have to cut a lot more out of your diet than cheerios.

    HOWEVER.
    The average American consumer is also receiving a very limited, controlled, long-term exposure to this. It is low on the list of things that will kill you. Would you be healthier without it? Yes. Should it be high on your list of worries:? Probably no. Unless you are out there treating crops with a backpack sprayer, though, this is HIGHLY unlikely to be the thing that gives you cancer.

    For more information on this topic, check out this entire book on the legislative and research battles surrounding Glyphosate!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitewash_(book)

    1. Yes thank you for your insight from an environmental perspective! It’s all important info that we should all be aware of. My issue is with certain groups/the media/wellness influencers using the information we have and twisting it to say one specific food is “killing us,” which just isn’t the case! I love the way you phrased that last paragraph.

      1. Erin says:

        I totally agree with you. Fear-based change is not healthy nor effective in the long-term.

  2. Michaela Minock says:

    Yesssss I love Food Science Babe! THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!!!

  3. Mayra says:

    I feel that there should be more research that is made accessible to the public about this. It is interesting to me that people are only worried about the oats. What about the other crops that are sprayed with roundup?

    1. There’s a lot of “discussion” about Goldfish and other snacks containing glyphosate residues too, due to the wheat being sprayed. But just like Cheerios, the amount of exposure you get from consumption is insanely small compared to what has been shown to increase risk for cancer. Agree with you on info being more available/clear to the public!

  4. Ellie says:

    I don’t think it’s about guilt tripping parents over what they feed their kids. I think it’s about raising awareness that something is potentially harmful. Glyphosate is actually banned in some countries and I think it’s important to be aware of the possible dangers. The World Health Organization listed it as a probable carcinogen in 2015. Just my opinion. 🙂

    1. Yes! But WHO made that statement based on evidence involving people who work directly with glyphosate (farmers). I agree that it’s good to be aware, but unfortunately the media and wellness influencers have been turning that info into clickbait that does guilt parents for awhile now.