Chlormequat: What is the chemical found in Cheerios, Quaker Oats?

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Chlormequat, a pesticide linked to reproductive and developmental issues in animals, is garnering attention after a study showed that it was prevalent in a number of oat-based foods. 

This includes brand names like Cheerios and Quaker Oats.

In a recent peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists studied the levels of chlormequat in oat- and wheat-based products purchased in the U.S. in 2022 and 2023. What they found was “detectable levels of chlormequat in all but two of 25 conventional oat-based products.” 

EWG is a nonprofit American activist group specializing in research and advocacy in areas such as agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants and corporate accountability.

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The two products with no detectable levels of chlormequat are 365 Whole Foods Market Fruit & Nut Muesli and Kellogg’s Special K Fruit & Yogurt, according to the study.

Under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, chlormequat chloride is currently registered for use as a plant growth regulator in ornamentals grown in greenhouses and nurseries. The use of chlormequat on crops like wheat, oats and barley decreases the stem height of the plants, making them less likely to bend over and easier to harvest, according to EWG.

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However, it is allowed to be used on imported oats and other foods sold in the U.S.

In 2018, researchers noted that the EPA published acceptable food tolerance levels for chlormequat chloride in imported oats, wheat and barley, as well as some animal products. In 2020, allowable levels were then increased for oats, the study said.

However, the EPA said in a statement to FOX Business that chlormequat is not currently registered for use on food in the U.S., and the EPA has not yet set tolerances for the use of chlormequat on domestic food crops.  

The chemical is “currently undergoing registration review,” according to the EPA.

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Based on the EPA’s human health risk assessment, “there are no dietary, residential, or aggregate (i.e., combined dietary and residential exposures) risks of concern,” the EPA said.

Quaker Oats, produced by PepsiCo, told FOX Business that the company stands “by the safety and quality” of its products. 

“We have a comprehensive food safety management system in place. We adhere to all regulatory guidelines to ensure the safest, highest quality products for our consumers,” the company said in a statement.

General Mills, which produces the Cheerios brand, said its 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,” the company said in a statement.

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