US: agricultural chemical chlormequat found in oat-based products

The Environmental Working Group (EVG), an American nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability, investigated the presence of chlormequat in oat-based products sold in the US.  

Chlormequat is a chemical compound, used as plant growth regulator. Studies of animals exposed to the chemical showed it can disrupt fetal growth and harm the reproductive system. These findings raise concerns about how chlormequat might be harmful to human health, especially to children.  

To test for chlormequat, EWG sampled 13 non-organic, or conventional, oatmeal, granola, cereals and other oat-based products, and one organic granola product, in spring and summer 2022. The analysis has been carried out by an independent accredited laboratory based in California. Chlormequat was discovered in all but one of 13 products.  

“Eleven products contained chlormequat levels higher than the amount we think is safe for children’s health [30 ppb], and one sample contained exactly that amount” is reported on EWG’s website.  

EWG underlines that, in the US, chlormequat is approved for agricultural commercial use on ornamental plants only – not on oats or any other food products, however, imported oats can have chlormequat residue in them because, in 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permitted traces of chlormequat in U.S. food (including oats, wheat and barley) and later, in 2020, increased permitted levels of the chemical for oats to 40 ppm. EWG finds EPA approval particularly alarming because of the studies showing the chemical’s connection to health issues in laboratory animals.  

According to EWG, the currently available toxicity data in animal studies should raise red flags at regulatory agencies about concerns for the potential harmful impacts of chlormequat on human health.