The healthiest cereals are laden with cancer-causing chemicals

The unexpected role of the insurance industry in reducing harmful chemicals in the food supply

muesli packs

Raw rolled oats and grains, fruits, seeds or nuts… On the face of it, muesli is the ultimate healthy breakfast choice, enough to make one positively smug about one’s clean living. But take a closer look, and that Instagram-worthy dish may in fact be a lethal cocktail of cancer-causing endocrine disruptors, no matter that the box guarantees 100% natural ingredients. In the fight to safeguard your health, could it be that risk managers are the unlikely champions that agri-business needs to safeguard your health?

According to a recent study, the majority of (non-organic) packaged muesli cereals, touted for being high fibre, low calorie and rich in antioxidants, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, are far from being the healthy start to the day they claim to be. Rather, the French environmental group “Generations Futures”, recently conducted a study of popular muesli cereals sold at supermarkets under reputable brand names to ascertain whether they contained any traces of chemic products. Taking 15 non-organic and 5 organic muesli cereals to their laboratory, the results were shocking: 100% of non-organic muesli samples contained pesticide residuals.

One might dismiss these results as being a natural result of the modern age- the suggestion being that one might find a touch of pesticide residue on any given foodstuff. But, in fact, not a single pesticide residue was found on the organic muesli cereal samples. And, of the 15 non-organic samples, we are not talking just traces of one or two undesirable chemicals. Rather, there were a grand total of 141 different pesticide residues found on the cereal samples, of which 81 are suspected endocrine disrupters (a total of 57.44%).

Endocrine disruptors are anything but harmless; they are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s hormonal system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife, and the health effects can be felt long after the exposure has stopped. Exposure to endocrine disruptors in the womb can have life-long effects and can even have consequences for the next generation.

In addition to the astonishing diversity of harmful chemicals, the pesticides found on the non-organic samples were found to be of an average concentration of 0.177 mg/kg per sample studied. The study’s authors confirm that this concentration is a whopping 354 times the maximum admissible concentration tolerated for the total amount of pesticides in a single glass of water.

To put this in context, let’s consider one variety of muesli that the research team took a sample from. Alpen No Added Sugar Muesli is a line of muesli varieties manufactured by Weetabix. It proudly boasts that it has “100% natural ingredients”. However, a sample of the product found a total of 10 pesticide residuals, of which 2 were quantified, showing 0.045 mg/kg. The endocrine disruptors they found included the herbicide chlorpropham; the insecticides chlorpyrifos and pirimiphos-methyl; the pesticides cyhalothrin, and piperonyl butoxide; and the fungicides iprodione, cyprodinyl, and pyrimethanil. Two other non-endocrinal disruptor pesticides were found.

The president of Generations Futures, François Veillerette, reiterates that it is not to be expected that one get sick from consuming a bit of muesli for breakfast, but that it is unlikely that anyone plans to start their day with a dose of endocrine disruptors for breakfast. His organization is hoping to both investigate and publicize the widespread presence of pesticides in even the most seemingly healthy of foods, and to push for the reduction of pesticides and the outright banning of endocrine disruptors.

It is widely understood that the prevalence of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides has come about as a means for modern agri-business to increase yields, prevent crop failure, control invasive plants, and promote uniform quality. Whilst the demand for organic and non-genetically modified food is outstripping supply, the move to convert land to organic production can be an arduous and expensive process. Higher labour costs and reduced crop yields and profit losses during the transition period to organic are all factors farmers must consider. Making the switch back to organic farming may seem far-fetched for farmers fighting to remain competitive, even if their products can merit higher price points at the grocery store.

Moreover, it is a perilous time to be a farmer, let alone an organic one. The accumulation of years of increasing unseasonal weather and extreme weather events has had a significant impact across the world for farmers. Examining the crop production of cereals in the last 40 years, droughts and heat waves have contributed to a 10% reduction in global production. It would seem that organic muesli never stood a chance. But is that still the case?

Today, farmers wishing to reduce or eliminate their use of synthetic chemicals in their farming operations have an unlikely champion in the insurance industry. Innovative risk management providers like Meteo Protect are now providing hedging covers that allow for any farmer to be insured for frost days, heat waves, and any other adverse weather peril that may jeopardize their crops and for which they previously turned to chemical assistance. With compensation being provided automatically in the case of weather conditions turning against them, these farmers no longer need to raise prices or fear lost profits and higher production costs.

Rather, their balance sheet is freed to institute tactical management options as the adverse weather is forecast (eg. increasing irrigation at the time of a heatwave), farming practices (crop rotation, cover crops and composted manures to enrich the soil and prevent insects and weeds), and longer term proactive changes to management could be implemented well in advance (eg. irrigation design/infrastructure, radiation protection, looking at alternative cereal storage methods than silos and similar containers that require insecticide spraying).

Meteo Protect is aware that each farm, each crop, is different, and weather risks are local and specific. However, Meteo Protect knows exactly how weather affects each and every plant, so it can provide farmers access to specific and targeted financial solutions for the specific perils they are seeking protection for, at the price that reflects individual risks and operations. And clean living instagrammers can tip their breakfast bowl to that.