There’s a Toxic Weedkiller on the Menu in K-12 Schools Across the U.S.
By Caroline Cox
Many parents cheered about 10 years ago when Michelle Obama took on the important task of improving school meals. Of course, every child should have a healthy lunch and breakfast. Most of us have school cafeteria stories; I still remember the feeling of failure I had decades ago when I realized my daughters never had time to eat more than their dessert before joining the stampede for recess.
Ms. Obama's work—and the work of many other concerned parents, teachers and staff—sparked significant improvements in school menus, some of which are now being undone by the current administration (allowing children to eat food with more salt and less whole grain). Schools must once again take another step forward.
If you haven't met glyphosate (Roundup) yet, allow me to introduce you. Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in the U.S. Its use has skyrocketed during the last 20 years because of the popularity of genetically-modified crops that are tolerant of this weedkiller. Health concerns about glyphosate have also skyrocketed since 2015, when the World Health Organization evaluated its ability to cause cancer.
The above graph was created by the Center for Environmental Health using data from the study "Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally" by Charles M. Benbrook.
Glyphosate's evaluation as a probable carcinogen is scary and was recently validated by a jury that awarded a school groundskeeper a multimillion-dollar judgment against Monsanto/Bayer because he had developed cancer after years of Roundup use. The decision has paved the way for thousands of other cancer patients and families to seek justice and compensation in court.
Even scarier, recent research has demonstrated that glyphosate can disrupt our body's hormones, those vital molecules that manage growth, development, behavior, sex and more.
Exposing children, with their developing bodies, to a chemical that can cause cancer and hormone dysfunction is wrong. It's especially wrong for children simply eating breakfast at school, who often are from low-income families. This fact has spurred the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health (CEH), where I serve as the senior scientist, to measure glyphosate contamination in breakfast cereals and bars served at schools. Although our study was small, the results were striking.
We found significant contamination in 70 percent of the products we tested, including big name brands like Quaker, whose glyphosate contamination was more than six times the safety threshold developed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Cheerios, whose glyphosate contamination was more than five times the EWG safety threshold.
Our findings corroborate a growing list of recent studies demonstrating the presence of glyphosate in children's foods, including preliminary findings by CEH in August, as well as those by the EWG, Moms Across America, Food Democracy Now and the Food and Drug Administration.
Because our study was small, and there is not much government testing of glyphosate contamination in popular grocery items, there may be other contaminated products at your school or grocery store. We just don't know. We did recently find glyphosate contamination in King Arthur bread flour. King Arthur is the fourth largest seller of flour in the country, consumed by approximately 16.61 million Americans this year. King Arthur's bread flour is used for more than just baking bread—the company also claims "it strengthens whole-grain pastries, makes cookies crispier, and when combined with all-purpose flour, creates chewier pizza crusts and more tender muffins." If we found it in commonly sold wheat flour, where else might it be?
Fortunately, there is a straightforward way to reduce the amount of glyphosate that our students consume. Certified organic foods are grown without glyphosate and the ones that we have tested are uncontaminated. Thus, we are asking schools to buy these organic cereals and bars. Some organic food is more expensive than conventionally grown food, but even a partial switch reduces the amount of this pesticide that students are eating and increases the market for organics, setting up the economies of scale that will lower prices.
Further, switching to organic cereals in the short term and advocating for stronger chemical regulation in the long term is beneficial to all eaters, especially people who are exposed to the highest levels of pesticides because of their work, such as groundskeepers and farmworkers.
What can parents do? Here are three steps to help protect you and your family:
- Buy organic cereals for your family whenever they are affordable and available for you.
- Ask your children's schools to add organic cereals to their menus. For advice about effective ways to do this, contact us at email@example.com.
- Tell the CEO of General Mills to get rid of glyphosate in Cheerios and other cereal products by switching to organic oats. Children aren't test subjects and parents deserve warning labels.
Monsanto (now Bayer) made hundreds of millions of dollars in 2017 from herbicide sales. We need to demand a change. Cancer-causing chemicals do not belong in children's meals, whether served at home, at school or a child care center.
‘Should I Throw Out My #Cheerios?’ and Other Questions About Roundup in Children’s Food #roundup @cancer… https://t.co/pf9nI1dgql— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1535536932.0
Caroline Cox is the senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.