Oats is the crop that received the first U.S. health claim approval.
It’s commonly seen as a miracle food that combines whole-grain, high fibre and heart-healthy characteristics.
It forms the basis of many of the healthiest breakfast foods available, including oatmeal, Cheerios and granola bars.
But recently it’s been hit by multiple claims that glyphosate residues are tainting the foods that it dominates, and it has created a vexing situation for farmers and the oat industry.
“I think we have to be aware,” said Art Enns, the Morris, Man., farmer who is president of Prairie Oat Growers Association.
“Maybe we have to adjust. I don’t know.”
The frustrating feature for farmers of the recent controversies is the reality that the residues are far beneath anything considered harmful or dangerous by health authorities, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Even when glyphosate residues are only in the parts per billion, anti-pesticide groups have been able to get much mainstream media attention with the “reports” and “studies” they have released.
In August, the U.S. Environmental Working Group received huge media attention when it issued a release entitled, “Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?” under its Children’s Health Initiative branding.
It appeared underneath a photograph of a child pouring Cheerios-like cereal into a bowl.
The organization claimed the residues exceeded its own customized “health benchmark,” which are many times lower than the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s allowable maximums.
On Sept. 9, CTV News released a story headlined, “Weed-killing chemical found in pasta, cereal and cookies sold in Canada: study.”
The story noted that the residues discovered by the “advocacy group” called Environmental Defence Canada were “a minute amount that’s far below the levels deemed safe by Health Canada, (but) the fact there are trace amounts of a weed killer in foods in the first place may surprise many Canadians.”
The story ran underneath a photograph of a spoon holding Cheerios.
Companies such as General Mills have been struggling with attacks on their products, recently agreeing to re-label some breakfast bars in order to settle a lawsuit over claims its oats were 100 percent natural. Tiny traces of glyphosate were revealed in testing, suggesting the “natural” claim was false.
Enns admitted he did not know how the oats industry should handle all the attacks.
POGA advises farmers to carefully follow pesticide label instructions, Cereals Canada’s Keep It Clean program and whatever instructions their buyers give them about what pesticides they are allowed to use and how.
“How do we convince the consumer that we’re safe?” Enns said.
“I don’t know, but I stand by the products.”
He’s also hoping that some farmers will find a growing market for organic oats.
“We do have options in the oat industry,” said Enns.
Oats might be the last crop that people would expect to come under an onslaught of bad press. It is non-genetically modified and is associated with many positive health impacts.
So it has been bewildering to see oat products getting roasted in the mainstream media and across social media.
“It bothered me to see a bowl of Cheerios out in front (of the CTV report) because it is probably the healthiest of all (breakfast foods),” said Enns.