Last April, Grain Millers, a major oat buyer in Western Canada, announced it would no longer purchase oats if farmers sprayed the crop with glyphosate prior to harvest.
A year later, the company’s decision looks particularly astute because Americans in California, New York and Illinois are now suing PepsiCo and Quaker Oats over glyphosate contaminated oatmeal.
The New York Times reported May 2 that testing found traces of the herbicide in Quaker Oats oatmeal. The amount detected was significantly below the maximum residue level allowed by regulators, but the plaintiffs behind the lawsuits say Quaker used false advertising to sell its oatmeal.
Quaker markets its oatmeal as 100 percent natural. The lawsuits claim that’s misleading because Quaker products contain glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and the most popular herbicide in the world.
The Bloomberg news service reported that the same group of lawyers is behind the separate legal actions. They are hoping to turn it into a class action case, seeking compensation for consumers who bought Quaker oatmeal because they assumed it was healthy and natural.
Many western Canadian growers spray oats with glyphosate before harvest to control late season weeds and to desiccate the crop. That glyphosate may end up in the oatmeal, even though Quaker washes oats before making its food products.
Grain Millers’ decision was controversial last spring because producers accused the company of buckling to pressure from environmental activists like the Sierra Club.
“There is no scientific backing to this decision,” said Edgar Scheurer, Prairie Oat Growers Association vice-president. “Roundup is registered on oats for pre-harvest application.”
Grain Millers said it made the choice because premature application of glyphosate, before the crop was sufficiently mature, was compromising oat quality.
“When mills cut, flake or roll the groat, it is chalky, it’s brittle, it breaks apart and the finished product doesn’t make spec, in terms of granulation or absorption,” said Terry Tyson, Grain Millers’ procurement manager in Yorkton, Sask.
“The groat integrity is affected much like an early frost affects groat integrity …. (but) frost damage you can see on the groat.”
This winter, Richardson International, the largest oat miller in Canada, said it would continue to purchase oats that are desiccated with glyphosate. It didn’t have concerns about oat quality, but customers did ask Richardson’s to check for glyphosate.
“In 2015, we started including glyphosate residue testing,” said Al Raine, Richardson’s assistant vice-president of crop inputs marketing.
“We found nothing above what we call an undetect level, which is .05 parts per million.”