Should You Buy Glyphosate Free Oats for Your Kids?

Jun 23 2022

Are Glyphosate Free Oats Safer? A Look at the Evidence

Some oats and oat cereals contain traces of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. Government groups say these levels are safe, but science shows some potential risks that may make glyphosate free oats a better choice.

Glyphosate in oats exploded as a concern in 2018 when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report showing glyphosate residue in popular oatmeals and oat-based cereals at levels far exceeding what they deemed safe for kids.

Media outlets were quick to condemn pantry staples from top brands as the latest foods to avoid, and the call to seek glyphosate free oats still rings out from blogs across the internet.

But does this herbicide pose a particular risk to kids? Should you be concerned about glyphosate in the oats you feed your family?

Neither government regulation nor science has a clear answer. But knowing a bit more about glyphosate can help you make the best choices for yourself and your kids.

Why do some oats have glyphosate?

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, an herbicide used to control weeds in crops like corn and soybeans. Roundup stops plant cells from making amino acids that create the plant’s structure and protect it against disease. Without these amino acids, the weeds dry up and die. But the crops, which have been genetically modified (GMO) to resist Roundup, continue to grow.

Oats aren’t genetically modified, but many farmers still spray the weed killer on oats to dry the plants out at harvest time. Called desiccation, this practice allows farmers to skip the step of cutting oats and letting them dry in the field. Desiccating with glyphosate can also increase the size and amount of oats in a crop, leading to better yields.

Harvesting practices differ from country to country, but the U.S. imports the majority of its oats from areas where desiccating with glyphosate is a common practice. There’s just one problem: Glyphosate isn’t a registered desiccant, and using it as one can leave traces of herbicide that wind up in foods like oatmeal and breakfast cereal.

Is glyphosate in oats safe?

Whether glyphosate residue is harmful to humans is still up for debate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the “tolerable limit” for glyphosate in oats at 30 parts per million (ppm); the EU’s limit is 20 parts per million.

The daily limit for safe dietary levels of glyphosate varies worldwide. The U.S. recommends no more than 1.75 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, but the EU’s limit is much lower at 0.3 milligrams. Even at the higher U.S. level, the EPA, FDA, World Health Organization (WHO) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) all say glyphosate doesn’t pose health risks to people.

The EWG and a group called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) beg to differ. The IARC says glyphosate may cause cancer, and the EWG’s safe limit of 0.16 parts per million for glyphosate in food is based on the idea that these levels lower the cancer risk to only one in 1 million.

The EWG has another reason for setting a low glyphosate limit: kids’ safety. According to the group, there should be an extra margin to protect children against glyphosate exposure. The EPA disagrees, saying it hasn’t found any evidence that children are more sensitive to glyphosate than adults.

Where does all this leave you when choosing what to feed your family?

Science is the best place to look for answers. Despite conflicting research results, there are some areas where evidence suggests glyphosate may be a concern if your kids are big oatmeal fans.

Glyphosate may affect immunity

Children need to develop strong immune systems, but glyphosate might interfere with critical immune system functions like fighting off disease and healing damaged tissues. It may also increase the likelihood of inflammation and cause cell damage.

These pro-inflammatory effects may be why some studies show glyphosate plays a role in cancer development. Many cancers involve inflammation or are related to chronic inflammatory conditions. But overall evidence linking glyphosate to cancer is mixed, and further studies are needed to determine whether it’s harmful to humans at regular dietary levels.

Glyphosate may interfere with hormones

Hormones play a significant role in growth and development starting in the womb. As kids grow, hormones like estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormone influence everything from brain health to reproductive function.

Some animal studies suggest prenatal or early life glyphosate exposure can affect how girls’ reproductive organs develop, possibly by interfering with estrogen receptors and blocking estrogen production. Scientists aren’t sure if the same thing happens when humans are exposed to glyphosate; so far, the majority of evidence shows no hormonal effects.

Glyphosate may disrupt gut health

The community of microbes in kids’ guts, known as the gut microbiome, develops most from birth to age three during the transition from breast milk to solid food. What foods kids eat can have a big influence on the amount and types of microbes that take up residence in the gut and stay there through adulthood. An imbalance between “good” and “bad” gut microbes—called dysbiosis—may predispose children to problems like irritable bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma or obesity as they get older.

This is an area where glyphosate free oats might make a difference in kids’ health. Oatmeal is a popular food for babies and toddlers, and exposing their developing microbiomes to glyphosate may result in dysbiosis.

How does glyphosate affect the gut microbiome?

Glyphosate appears to disrupt soil, plant and animal microbiomes by reducing good microbes and increasing bad ones. This may be because the herbicide works by interfering with a metabolic process called the shikimate pathway, which helps plants and microbes produce the amino acids phenylalanine, tryptophan and tyrosine.

Human cells don’t have this pathway, but gut bacteria do. Up to 26% of gut bacteria may be sensitive to glyphosate. Test-tube studies show good bacteria are more sensitive to glyphosate-containing herbicides like Roundup than bad ones. But studies showing a link between glyphosate exposure and dysbiosis often use higher levels of glyphosate than what’s typically found in food.

While this could be a case of “the dose makes the poison,” conflicting information on acceptable levels can make it hard to determine safe glyphosate intakes—especially for children—and whether glyphosate in food may be a potential cause of childhood dysbiosis.

Do you need to buy glyphosate free oats?

In general, the risks of glyphosate in food appear to be potential rather than definite. Glyphosate-associated health problems depend on how much glyphosate is used in studies, and the herbicide doesn’t appear to accumulate in the body over time. That means it would take repeated exposure to large amounts of glyphosate for it to harm you or your kids. Current evidence shows dietary intakes are below federal limits set in the U.S. and Europe.

But there isn’t enough research available to determine whether frequent low doses of glyphosate may affect kids’ development. If your children eat oatmeal every day, choosing glyphosate free oats can help reduce their exposure.

How to find glyphosate free oats

Although evidence of its health effects isn’t definitive, enough shoppers are concerned about whether glyphosate is safe that several millers, companies and producers have begun rejecting oats from farms that desiccate with the herbicide.

Other companies have their oats tested for glyphosate and receive Glyphosate Residue-Free certification. Oats with this label have close to undetectable levels of glyphosate, usually at or below 0.01 parts per million.

Purity Protocol oats are another option. These oats are produced using methods designed to minimize glyphosate exposure and tested to ensure levels are as low as possible. Choosing organic or non-GMO oats doesn’t offer the same assurance, since crops may become contaminated with residue from glyphosate herbicides sprayed on nearby fields.

Eating oats for health

Choosing glyphosate-free oats gives you and your family the benefits of heart-healthy whole grains, plant-based protein, B vitamins and fiber without concerns about herbicide residue. Choose the oats you feel most comfortable feeding your kids based on the evidence, and watch them enjoy breakfast with big smiles on their faces.

Where does all this leave you when choosing what to feed your family?