Study: 21 popular cereals found to have cancer-linked Roundup ingredient

New tests done by the Environmental Working Group have found 21 oat-based cereals and snack bars popular amongst children to have "troubling levels of glyphosate." The chemical, which is the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, can allegedly cause cancer.

The oat products tested were made by General Mills, including several Cheerios varieties and Nature Valley products. You can view the full list of test products here.

While EWG said it found the chemical to be in all of the reported cereal and snacks, 16 showed levels of glyphosate higher than 160 parts per billion, which is what scientists consider safe for children. Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch tested for the highest levels of the chemical at 833 parts per billion.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, has a much higher tolerance for glysphosate in crops, allowing levels ranging from 0.1 to 310 parts per million.  

In an email to CBS News, General Mills said food safety is a top priority, and although "most crops grown in fields use some form of pesticides and trace amounts are found in the majority of food we all eat," they're looking to minimize the use of pesticides on the ingredients used in their products. They also cited the FDA and EPA's safe levels of glyphosate in food products and said they, and their farmers, all comply.

The major difference in tolerance all comes down to conflicting science. The World Health Organization has identified glyphosate as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" and a study published earlier this year showed that glyphosate raised the cancer risk of those exposed to it by 41 percent. However, others cite studies on agricultural workers who have worked with Roundup that found little to no correlation.

Glyphosate is most used as a weedkiller for genetically modified corn and soybeans. It's used on oats to kill the crop and dry it out so it's easier for harvesting.

EWG concludes its report by urging companies to find safer sources of oats. They write, "The only way to quickly remove this cancer-causing weedkiller from foods marketed to children is for companies like General Mills and Quaker to use oats from farmers who do not use glyphosate as a desiccant." 

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These eight foods and drinks can contribute to cancer
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These eight foods and drinks can contribute to cancer

1. Processed meat

The World Health Organization places processed meat in the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos when it comes to carcinogenicity. Although the three groups are not considered equally dangerous, processed meat has been proven to cause colorectal cancer. Studies show that "every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 [percent]," the U.N. agency notes.

Research has also found a connection between processed meat and stomach cancer, but the evidence is not conclusive. 

2. Salt-cured meat or fish

Salt-cured foods tend to have high levels of nitrates and nitrites, both of which react with amines and amides to form compounds that can lead to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute

Moreover, research shows that "the more people eat of these foods the greater their chance of developing stomach cancer," Dr. Stephanie Fay wrote for World Cancer Research Fund International

3. Pickled foods

Much like salt-cured food, pickled foods contain a strong amount of nitrate and nitrate. A 2012 survey published by the American Association for Cancer Research revealed a direct correlation between the consumption of pickled vegetables and gastric cancer. Those of East Asian descent are particularly vulnerable to the disease since their diet heavily consists of pickled foods, the study said.  

4. Grilled food

Grilling food over an open flame creates heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, two types of chemicals that can cause changes in the DNA, thereby increasing the risk of cancer, the National Cancer Institute points out. Researchers determined that high consumption of well-done, fried or barbecued meats led to increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. 

5. Microwave popcorn

Microwave popcorn contains a toxic compound called diacetyl, which can cause scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs and has been linked to lung cancer, Eitan Yefenof of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told Reader's Digest.

The health threat actually comes from the popcorn bags, which contain chemicals that are suspected to cause cancer, according to Healthline. Those chemicals can also be found in pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers and Teflon pans. 

6. Alcohol

Heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum, says the National Cancer Institute. The U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines "heavy alcohol drinking" as "having 4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting (typically in about 2 hours)." Those who drink should do so in moderation (one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men). 

7. Bagels

As mouth-watering as bagels are, they're also a health risk, particularly for non-Hispanic whites. Bagels have a high glycemic index, which means that they can significantly raise blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels trigger the secretion of insulin, which, in turn, can influence the risk of lung cancer, according to a 2016 study published by the American Association for Cancer Research

8. Soda

Drinking carbonated beverages heavily can exacerbate the symptoms associated with cancer, such as gas, bloating, heartburn or reflux, according to Stacy Kennedy, a senior clinical nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

In addition, many soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Obesity itself has been linked to 13 different types of cancer, including breast, esophageal and endometrial cancers. 

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