From beer to wine to breakfast food, the pesticide glyphosate is showing up in a lot of places that consumers don’t expect to find it. The chemical, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, was declared a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer last
year, and since then, a number of food and environmental activist groups have started testing for it in an array of products, and finding it—albeit in small amounts—most everywhere they look. Now, a group of consumers are suing Quaker Oats, which is owned by PepsiCo, over the glyphosate that testing paid for by the plaintiffs found in the company’s Quick 1-Minute oats product.
The suit puts the growing controversy over glyphosate (and, to a lesser extent, “natural” labels, which are not regulated) in front of the courts. And while the class-action status of the complaint seeks financial damages, the larger question is twofold: Why is glyphosate showing up in oats and so many other foods, and does it present a health risk?
Those questions don’t lead to straightforward answers, and part of the reason why is that regulators have not been looking for glyphosate. Despite it being the most heavily used pesticide in history—with 2.4 billion pounds of it sprayed on U.S. farmland between 2004 and 2014 alone—the Food and Drug Administration does not test for glyphosate residue, although it will begin to later this year. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is tasked with setting residue limits for pesticides, increased the threshold for glyphosate a few years ago.