Weed-killing chemical found in pasta, cereal and cookies sold in Canada: study

A new study found several popular food products in Canada contained traces of a controversial weed-killing chemical.

Of the 18 products tested by California-based Anresco Laboratories, 14 tested for glyphosate, the active ingredient in the chemical herbicide Roundup. It is also found in many other agricultural and gardening products.

The study, commissioned by the advocacy group Environmental Defence Canada, tested Kraft Dinner Original macaroni and cheese, Ritz Original crackers, President's Choice tortillas, two brands of hummus, breakfast cereals like General Mills' Cheerios and Kellogg's Froot Loops as well as Tim Hortons chocolate glazed Timbits and sesame seed bagels.

Chickpea and wheat-based products were among the highest contaminated, likely because these crops are often sprayed with the chemical not long before being harvested. 

The levels detected in the study were minute, in the parts per billion. Health Canada has set levels of glyphosate deemed safe in the parts per million.

Environmental Defence Canada said regardless of the small amounts of the weed-killing chemical, the fact the trace amounts are found in foods in the first place may come as a surprise to many Canadians.

"It is disconcerting that this harmful pesticide is consistently showing up in food products that most children eat daily. Exposure adds up," said Muhannad Malas with Environmental Defence. "Growing scientific evidence and international regulatory action show that Canadians should be concerned."

The issue of glyphosate remains hotly contested, with several studies and court cases linking the chemical to cancer. However a 2017 Health Canada study found that the herbicide in low levels was "unlikely to pose a human cancer risk."

The following is the list of items and the trace amounts of glyphosate found in each:

1.    Fontaine Santé Roasted Garlic Hummus 760ppb
2.    PC Blue Menu Tortillas 100% Whole Grain 744ppb
3.    Cheerios cereal 577ppb
4.    Ritz Original crackers 569ppb
5.    Kraft Dinner Original macaroni and cheese 521ppb
6.    Sabra Classic Hummus 506ppb
7.    Unico Chickpeas 284ppb
8.    Tim Hortons Sesame Seed Bagel 233ppb
9.    Catelli Healthy Harvest Multigrain Spaghetti 231ppb
10.    Tim Hortons Chocolate Glazed Timbit 209ppb
11.    Kelloggs Froot Loops Cereal 161ppb
12.    Quaker Large Flake Oats 135ppb
13.    Pogo Original (breading only) 53ppb
14.    The Original Oreo cookie 19ppb
15.    Country Harvest 12 Grains bread 0ppb
16.    Doritos Nacho Cheese chips 0ppb
17.    Mr. Christie's Arrowroot cookies 0ppb
18.    Tim Hortons Chocolate Glazed Donut 0ppb

The following are the company responses to CTV News when asked about the results.

Cereals Canada

Farmers around the world commonly use glyphosate to kill weeds and control pests. But the U.S.-based Environmental Working Group says American farmers are increasingly spraying the chemical on oats and some other crops to help dry out the plants and harvest them sooner.

Grain producers say the herbicide is widely used and effective. Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, said it's important to consider the small amount of herbicide found in the 18 products.  

"If people want to know what a part per billion is, you would have to eat about 36,000 full loaves of bread in a single day to get to the allowable daily limit of glyphosate. So these are very, very small, small numbers," Dahl said.

Industry group Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC)

"FCPC recognises that glyphosate presence in foods may be of concern to Canadians. We are in regular consultation with regulatory authorities, academics, and our members to ensure the continued safety of our food," said spokesperson Michelle Kurtz in a statement.

Sabra Dipping Company, Sabra Classic Hummus

"Producing wholesome, safe, delicious food is Sabra's number one priority and we stand behind our products 100%.  We have a comprehensive quality program that encourages agricultural best practices, to ensure that only the best possible ingredients are used in our products.  In particular, we carefully comply with applicable laws relating to food safety, including laws that regulate any possible pesticide residues."

Kraft Heinz Canada, Kraft Dinner Original Noodles

"Our products are safe and comply with Health Canada's regulations. Health Canada has also evaluated various products including commodities like wheat found in pastas and found no human health concerns. In fact, as can be seen from the report, our product contains a small percentage of the amount Health Canada considers safe for wheat."

Mondelez Canada, Ritz Original Crackers and Oreo Original Cookies

"Mondelez Canada is committed to producing the highest quality foods possible. To this end we are also mindful about potential residues that may be in raw materials. To be assured that raw materials purchased by Mondelez Canada are safe and suitable for us and our consumers, we take the additional step to monitor our raw materials to ensure that they meet appropriate specifications, our own standards AND that of the government  (FDA, EPA for US & Health Canada, CFIA for Canada).  Additionally, we hold our suppliers to those same standards. Importantly, our products which are mentioned in this report are in full compliance with Health Canada's regulations."

Fontaine Santé, Roasted Garlic Hummus

"We proudly stand by the safety and quality of our Fontaine Santé products. Preparing healthy products is Fontaine Santé's number one priority, and we've been doing that for 28+ years.

Fontaine Santé makes all natural products using wholesome ingredients and does not add any glyphosate during the preparation of its products. Glyphosate, is a herbicide that is approved by regulatory agencies and is commonly used by farmers across the industry who apply it pre-harvest.

Fontaine Santé continually evaluates its product portfolio to ensure the highest quality and safety standards for our consumers. While the Fontaine Santé products comply with all safety and regulatory requirements, we are happy to be part of the discussion and are interested in collaborating with industry peers, regulators and other interested parties on glyphosate."

PepsiCo, Quaker Large Flake Oats

"We proudly stand by the safety and quality of our Quaker products. Producing healthy, wholesome food is Quaker's number one priority, and we've been doing that for more than 140 years.  Quaker does not add glyphosate during any part of the milling process. Glyphosate is commonly used by farmers across the industries who apply it pre-harvest. Once the oats are transported to us, we put them through our rigorous process that thoroughly cleanses them (de-hulled, cleaned, roasted and flaked).  Any levels of glyphosate that may remain are significantly below any regulatory limits and well within compliance of the safety standards set by Health Canada, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as safe for human consumption. Quaker continually evaluates our product portfolio to ensure the highest quality and safety standards for our consumers. While our products comply with all safety and regulatory requirements, we are happy to be part of the discussion and are interested in collaborating with industry peers, regulators and other interested parties on glyphosate."

Tim Hortons, chocolate glazed Timbits and sesame seed bagels

"At Tim Hortons, we stand by the integrity of our products. Nothing is more important to us than the quality of the food we serve our guests. In this case, Health Canada's position is clear: dietary risks from food and water are "not of concern." We remain committed to working with our suppliers to ensure our products meet the highest standards for food safety and quality."

Bayer Canada, Crop Science Division

"Environmental Defence Canada is a social action environmental group that has as one of its mandates opposing the use of chemicals in everyday products, including products like glyphosate. Glyphosate is a widely-used and effective herbicide with a 40-year history of safe use. Canada's health authorities have extensively reviewed glyphosate and approved it for use according to label instructions.