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Walmart and Target Shoppers, Take Note: Pesticide Found in Granola and Cereal

The lesser-known chemical has been discovered in popular oat and wheat-based products.

Pesticides—whether insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides—serve an important purpose. But while we want these chemicals to work hard to protect crops and keep insects away, we hope they don't carry any potentially harmful side effects. And we certainly don't want them showing up in our food. Unfortunately, a new study has revealed a lesser-known pesticide in a number of oat and wheat-based products, including some sold by popular supermarket giants Target and Walmart.

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In a new study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 80 percent of U.S. participants tested positive for the chemical chlormequat. This pesticide is often used to repel pests from wheat, oats, and barley—but its main purpose is to stunt stem growth, which in turn prevents crops from toppling over or hunching sideways.

While harvesters are banned from using the chemical on edible crops grown on U.S. soil, it isn't illegal to import chlormequat-treated foods from other countries, per the study.

These findings should "ring alarm bells," according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), who also referred to the study as "groundbreaking." The advocacy group warned in its own briefing that chlormequat has been proven to cause significant negative effects in animals and could pose a similar threat to humans.

In the study, researchers collected urine samples from three different geographical regions over the course of six years, from 2017 to 2023. Their objective was to test for the presence and concentration of chlormequat in American consumers.

It turns out that four out of five participants had chlormequat in their system. According to researchers, the results proved that the use and consumption of chlormequat is steadily on the rise. Furthermore, the study found that granola and cereal lovers are more commonly exposed to chlormequat.

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Researchers discovered that 92 percent of oat-based foods purchased in June 2022, Aug. 2022, and May 2023 tested positive for chlormequat. Among these products were Cheerios, oatmeal, granola bars, and Old Fashioned Oats sold under Quaker Foods, as well as Walmart and Target store-brand granola and cereals.

On the other hand, only 12.5 percent of organic oat-based foods tested positive for chlormequat.

Researchers conducted another small test in Feb. 2023, this time focusing on wheat-based products. Of the sampling, 22 percent tested positive for chlormequat.

General Mills, which operates the Cheerios brand, was one of the top companies found to have traces of chlormequat in foods. In a statement to USA Today, spokesperson Mollie Wulff said, "All our products adhere to all regulatory requirements. Food safety is always our top priority at General Mills, and we take care to ensure our food is prepared and packaged in the safest way possible."

As for Target and Walmart store-brand granolas and cereals, Best Life reached out to both retailers regarding which of their products were possibly implicated, and to see if they have plans to remove any items from shelves. We will update this story with their response.

Chlormequat's impact on overall human health has yet to be determined. However, activist groups like EWG warn that if the side effects showcased in animals—reduced fertility, altered fetal growth, and harm to the reproductive system—are any indication of the potential harm to humans, then this study should be a serious wake-up call to harvesters and consumers.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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