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‘Should I Throw Out My Cheerios?’ and Other Questions About Roundup in Children’s Food
By Sarah Graddy
Recently, Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a headline-making report on Roundup in children's cereal and other oat-based foods. Much of the news coverage agrees with us that parents should be concerned. Some says you shouldn't panic, and pro-pesticide interests accuse us of fear-mongering. So what should you believe—and more importantly, what should you do?
Here's why we did the study, how we reached our conclusions and our advice.
Why is Roundup in my kids' food?
It's first important to understand how a chemical like glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, gets into our food supply.
You've probably heard of Roundup, a weed killer sprayed on genetically engineered corn and soybeans. But Roundup is also used as a desiccant—a drying agent sprayed just before harvest on oats and other grains to make harvesting cheaper and easier. This use of Roundup is what caused the high levels of glyphosate in the oat-based foods we tested.
Based on our research and other studies, glyphosate is likely present in foods other than oats. The full extent of glyphosate contamination remains to be discovered. The Food and Drug Administration has been testing foods for glyphosate since 2015, but has not made its data public.
If the EPA says it's safe, why should I be worried?
Quaker Oats, General Mills and other companies would have you believe that, because the amounts of glyphosate EWG found in their products are within the limits allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, there's nothing for parents to worry about.
But just because something is legal, doesn't mean it's safe.
This is particularly true of chemicals we encounter on a daily basis. Government standards are often outdated and not based on the best and most current science. Standards can also be watered down by lobbying from the politically powerful industries they are supposed to regulate. Studies regularly find that the legal limits on contaminants in food, air, drinking water and consumer products fall short of protecting public health, particularly for children and other people more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals.
The EPA's current legal limit for glyphosate on oats and many other grains is 30 parts per million, or ppm. But just a few years ago, it was 300 times lower—only 0.1 ppm. The EPA raised the legal limit after farmers began using glyphosate as a desiccant, which was surely not a coincidence.
So how much glyphosate is safe to eat?
Glyphosate has been linked to an elevated risk of cancer by California state scientists and the World Health Organization. Just days before we released our report, a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to a school groundskeeper who said years of working with glyphosate caused his terminal cancer.
At EWG, we don't think chemicals linked to cancer belong in children's food. That's why our recommended maximum daily intake of glyphosate in food is 0.01 milligrams. That translates to a standard 60-gram portion of food containing 160 parts per billion, or ppb, of glyphosate. This health benchmark is based on the risks of lifetime exposure, and small, repeated exposures can add up if someone eats food containing glyphosate every day.
To develop our own benchmark for glyphosate, we started by looking at California's standard for glyphosate in food. It's set at the dose of glyphosate expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in every 100,000 people who ingest it over a lifetime.
We think that's too high of a risk, particularly for children and fetuses. EWG's benchmark added an additional 10-fold safety factor, resulting in an elevated risk of cancer for no more than one in 1 million people. The added safety factor for children is supported by the federal Food Quality Protection Act. (Read more about how we developed our glyphosate health guideline here.)
What can I do to protect my family? Should I throw out my Cheerios?
In a word: No.
We don't think people should go to their pantries and toss out all of the cereal, oatmeal and other oat-based foods found there. Any risk from pesticide residues on food is from long-term exposure.
Food companies are waking up to the fact that consumers are demanding food that is free from residues of toxic pesticides. From our tests, we know that oats and other grains can be grown without the use of Roundup before harvest. Companies can simply tell the farmers in their supply chains to stop using Roundup as a desiccant, which will immediately lower the amounts of glyphosate in popular children's foods. But they probably won't do this unless they hear from enough of their customers.
We are advising families to switch to organic foods, to minimize overall pesticide exposures. Our study found that foods made with organic oats had significantly lower glyphosate levels than products made with conventionally grown grains. Trace amounts of glyphosate were found on a few samples, probably because of wind drift from non-organic crops.
Oat-based foods remain a healthy source of fiber and nutrients for children and adults and can help to keep the heart and cardiovascular system healthy. We think it's your right to eat them without a dose of Roundup.
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By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
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