Back in 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) scared oat-lovers worldwide with its report detailing the presence of Roundup® (well, glyphosate) in almost all samples of products made with conventionally grown oats. Not great, sure, but if you typically bought organic oats, you didn’t need to worry, right? Not quite.
Table of Contents
- What is glyphosate?
- Why should I care about glyphosate in my oatmeal?
- EWG’s 2018 report – Glyphosate contamination rife in oats
- The Detox Project and Health Canada
- How to avoid glyphosate in your breakfast
- The best brands for glyphosate-free oatmeal, oats, and granola
- Back Roads
- Seven Sundays
- Healthy Traditions Oats
- Avena Foods / Only Oats
- Almond Cow
- Laird Superfood
- Red Tractor Foods
- MUSH Foods
- Other oat products certified glyphosate residue free
- Final thoughts on glyphosate free oats
The same EWG report revealed that around a third of samples of products made with organic oats also contained the toxic chemical. And this wasn’t the first time the issue of glyphosate contamination reared its ugly head.
What’s happened since that 2018 report was published, though? Have oat-peddlers cleaned up their act?
Below, we highlight some of the companies that offer oats and oat products that are certified free of glyphosate residues. First, though, a quick reminder of what glyphosate is and why it’s best to avoid the stuff.
What is glyphosate?
Monsanto first sold glyphosate to farmers way back in 1974. That means the chemical has been doing its worst for nearly 50 years. Glyphosate is the main chemical in the weed-killer (herbicide) Roundup®. And this broad-spectrum weed-killer is the most widely used chemical herbicide in history.
The use of Roundup® and other glyphosate-based herbicides (aptly shortened to GBHs) has increased by as much as 300-fold since the late 1970s. And oats are particularly likely to be contaminated with glyphosate. Why? Partly because farmers discovered that they could use the chemical ‘off-label’ as a pre-harvest desiccant. Basically, farmers went from spraying the oat plants once they matured, thus killing the crops and making harvesting easier, to spraying the crops before they reached maturity in order to force earlier ripening.
The practice allows farmers to grow and harvest oats over a shorter growing season, but it also results in far higher levels of glyphosate in the oats harvested. This is because the glyphosate sprayed onto the plants right before harvest is not broken down to any great degree by the plant.
Why should I care about glyphosate in my oatmeal?
It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to state that glyphosate is a massive driver of the loss of biodiversity in North America and worldwide. A paper published in Nature in 2020 details as much. One of its authors, Andrew Gonzalez, a McGill biology professor and Liber Ero Chair in Conservation Biology, said in an interview in 2020:
We observed significant loss of biodiversity in communities contaminated with glyphosate. This could have a profound impact on the proper functioning of ecosystems and lower the chance that they can adapt to new pollutants or stressors. This is particularly concerning as many ecosystems are grappling with the increasing threat of pollution and climate change.Andrew Gonzalez, McGill biology professor
Glyphosate also appears to have negative impacts on earthworms and overall biodiversity.
Some critics of glyphosate also contend that the use of the chemical harms the nutritional value of food. There’s some solid reasoning behind this, given that the cholesterol-lowering beta-glucans which prompt many people to choose oats for breakfast seem to develop right before the plant ripens, as long as it ripens naturally. Use glyphosate to force unnaturally early ripening and the beta-glucan content will likely be lower.
This concern over the impact of glyphosate on the healthfulness of oats is why one of the biggest oat buyers in Western Canada, Grain Millers Inc., declared it would stop buying oats treated with pre-harvest glyphosate. The rationale here was that the company couldn’t market its oat products as ‘heart healthy’ if they didn’t actually contain the nutrient on which this health claim is based.
EWG’s 2018 report – Glyphosate contamination rife in oats
On August 15th, 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a report that showed the presence of glyphosate in 43 of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats.
Of those samples, nearly three-quarters had levels of the herbicide higher than 160 parts per billion. This is the daily exposure threshold above which the EWG suggests glyphosate residues may be harmful to children’s health.
The trouble wasn’t just glyphosate in conventional oats, though. The EWG also tested 16 samples of products made with organic oats and found contamination there too. Around a third of the samples had traces of glyphosate, in fact. Fortunately, the levels were much lower, remaining below the threshold for harm.
From the EWG report, five samples stood out as containing no detectable levels of glyphosate. These were:
- Nature’s Path Organic Honey Almond granola
- Simple Truth Organic Instant Oatmeal, Original
- Kashi Heart to Heart Organic Honey Toasted cereal
- Cascadian Farm Organic Harvest Berry, granola bar
- 365 Organic Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats.
In addition, one of four samples of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Old Fashioned Rolled Oats had no detectable levels; one sample had 10 parts per billion (ppb), and two had 20 ppb.
Bob’s Red Mill markets itself as being purer than pure, meaning it faced considerable backlash after this report was published. How could products containing glyphosate consistently get through the company’s quality control procedures? Responding to the report, BRM reiterated that it asked the farmers supplying its oats to avoid using glyphosate, including as a pre-harvest desiccant or ripening tool. It also noted that its organic oats were grown according to the rules of the National Organic Program, which precludes the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest.
How did BRM’s oats come to contain glyphosate, then? A company spokesperson said in 2018 that “Unfortunately, even with the rules, it’s still possible for glyphosate to blow over from other non-organic farms.” They added that “Even still, choosing organic is the best way to avoid pesticides and other chemicals in foods.”
The difficulty of producing a truly glyphosate-free oat product shouldn’t be understated. Treated crops are often processed alongside untreated crops, contaminating production facilities. Some treated and untreated crops are also combined to create final products.
Even prior to processing, untreated oats can become contaminated if they’re close to fields sprayed with glyphosate. And the chemical can even end up in water supplies, contaminating fields downstream of treated areas.
The Detox Project and Health Canada
EWG’s report wasn’t the first to sound the alarm over glyphosate contamination of oats and other food. In 2017, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency published a report that noted its researchers had found traces of the herbicide in nearly 29.7 percent of the 3,188 food products they tested in 2015 and 2016.
Across all of the samples tested by CFIA, 1.3 percent contained residue levels above Health Canada’s Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs). This is the level above which scientists believe glyphosate can harm human health. Even more worrying, 3.9 percent of the grain products tested had glyphosate levels above MRLs. Unfortunately, Health Canada didn’t provide the names of the brands or products tested.
Prior to Health Canada’s input, independent organizations had also raised concerns over glyphosate in food. The Detox Project, in partnership with Food Democracy Now! used a U.S. Food and Drug Administration food-testing lab to determine glyphosate levels in a range of products sold in the U.S. These included some certified organic and non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods.
The Detox Project’s findings led the organization to develop its Glyphosate Residue Free certification. Leaf & Love’s Organic Lemonade was the first product to be certified under this scheme, and dozens more products have followed, including several oat products. The roll-out has been quite slow, though, depending on food companies to see the value of the certification and for consumers to demand truly glyphosate-free products. As such, it’s still tricky to find truly glyphosate-free oats in the U.S. (though not impossible; see below!).
Certified glyphosate residue free
The Detox Project’s Glyphosate Residue Free certification uses a third-party ISO 17025 accredited laboratory to test a company’s products for glyphosate. The certification is voluntary, and since 2018 many more companies have signed up to get their raw ingredients and consumer products certified.
What does this certification offer by way of assurance? In the U.S., a certified product must contain no glyphosate residues down to the lowest level of detection recognized in government labs. This is usually 0.01 ppm. In the European Union and Japan, however, the certification only offers assurance that a product contains lower levels than default government Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), which can be quite a bit higher.
In Japan, for instance, the MRL for glyphosate in honey is set at 0.05 ppm. This is still very low but, for once, the U.S. actually has more robust limits!
Blockchain and glyphosate-free oats
Incidentally, The Detox Project also became a signing node for the GoChain blockchain network in September 2022. This Proof of Reputation blockchain aims to be one of the most sustainable blockchains around.
What does glyphosate testing have to do with blockchains and algorithms? As with other areas of sustainable business practice, blockchains can help support more transparency in supply chains and help verify certifications. GoChain and The Detox Project are working with blockchain sustainability and supply chain leader Chainparency to this end. The result being better information for customers, including about the presence of contaminants in foods like oats.
How to avoid glyphosate in your breakfast
While we wait for more products to be certified Glyphosate Residue Free, we can still take steps to minimize potential exposure to glyphosate in oats. Yes, the reports I outlined above found that some organic oats also contained glyphosate, but the levels were much lower and two-thirds of products had no detectable amounts of the chemical.
As such, wherever possible, choose organic oats and organic oat products. Simply choosing non-GMO oats doesn’t guarantee the oats weren’t sprayed with glyphosate to force ripening or as a desiccant. If more folks who can afford it choose organic oats over conventional oats, this will help discourage the use of glyphosate and reduce contamination risks for everyone.
The best brands for glyphosate-free oatmeal, oats, and granola
Thanks to The Detox Project, the EWG, and others, we can now make more informed decisions about our morning oats. Choosing glyphosate-free oats is not only better for the health of your family, it also helps support a more sustainable way of farming, benefiting everyone (except for Bayer-Monsanto, perhaps).
Here are our top picks for glyphosate-free oat products.
Highlights: The first oats company to get certified Glyphosate Residue Free. Also certified organic and kosher, and Non-GMO Project Verified. Subscriptions (with discounts!) available on oats and granola.
Back Roads is one of the only companies in the U.S. selling organic oat products that are also certified glyphosate residue free. The company was actually the first granola and oats company to achieve this third-party certification and all Back Roads products are certified glyphosate residue free and Non-GMO Project Verified.
Back Roads is a family-owned and operated company with a company culture of fun, family, and service. The company doesn’t seem to have any specific sustainability initiatives, but it is committed to only selling organic and glyphosate free products and strongly favors working with independent whole food and natural food stores.
Back Roads Just Oats are available as a 2.45 lb. bag or a case of six bags, and as cases of six or twelve 1.5-ounce bags or 10 oz. bags. You can also sign up for ‘autoship’ to receive the 10 oz. or 2.45 lb bags monthly at a discount.
The oats are:
- Certified USDA Organic
- Kosher certified
- Certified Gluten Free
- Non-GMO Project Verified
- Certified Glyphosate Residue Free by the Detox Project.
There are also lots of granola options made with organic oats at Back Roads. These include: Coconut Crunch Granola, Coconut Ginger Granola, Maple Pecan Granola, Maple Spice Granola, Ancient Grains Granola, Dark Chocolate Pecan Granola, Gluten Free Granola, Maple Cranberry Granola, and Original Granola.
Back Roads offers free shipping on orders over $35. You can also find some Back Roads products at Whole Foods Markets in NY, NJ, and the New England states but not in other Whole Foods Markets, nor in other large grocery chains or discount chains. This is because Back Roads likes to sell direct to customers, fresh from its ovens.
Unfortunately, even Back Roads sells its oats in plastic packaging. The good news, though, is that the company offers larger bags, helping to minimize packaging overall.
Highlights: B Corporation selling certified glyphosate residue free protein oats and muesli mixes. Very transparent about third-party test results and uses packaging made with 50% recycled plastic. Just one certified organic product so far, but more to come really soon!
Seven Sundays is a Benefit Corporation (B Corp) offering a variety of flavors of certified glyphosate residue free muesli as well as Protein Oats (a blend of oats, almond flakes, chia seeds, and oat pulp).
The company doesn’t use certified organic oats for all but one product currently, but it does develop, incentivize, and maintain relationships with farmers using regenerative agriculture practices. In some cases, these may actually be more beneficial for the health of soil, plants, and people than organic practices per USDA standards.
In addition, Seven Sundays is working with several family farms in transition to becoming certified organic. So, watch this space for more organic products coming soon from this B Corp! Currently, the company uses around 30-50% organic ingredients in its mixes, with just the Farmer’s Market Mix – Almond and Date Museli – certified organic (view here).
All of the oats Seven Sundays sources are from farmers and mills that prohibit the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant. To be sure, the company still undertakes third-party testing and shares results of those tests on its website.
Most Seven Sundays products certified gluten-free, though the Wildberry Maple Eco Packs aren’t. Speaking of those Eco Packs, most Seven Sundays muesli products are available in both smaller packs and value packs that also help to minimize single-use plastic. The current packaging is not recyclable in most places as it is a mixed layer plastic. However, Seven Sundays uses packaging made with 50% post-consumer recycled materials and is looking for more sustainable packaging options.
I also love that Seven Sundays uses ingredients such as wild blueberries and regenerative buckwheat and even makes a cereal using upcycled sunflower seeds. The Cocoa Sunflower Cereal contains just 1 g of sugar per serving but gets rave reviews for taste and crunch. What a great way to use food that would otherwise go to waste!
The company offers free shipping on orders over $30 and also sells in many major grocery stores across the U.S. and online. These include Amazon, Hungryroot, Target.com, Wholefoods.com, and Sprouts.com. If you order at SevenSundays.com, you can set up a subscription and get 10% off your order. Set your subscription to a frequency that suits you and add extras to any order as you please.
Healthy Traditions Oats
Highlights: Italian oats grown on a family farm using organic farming practices. Tested for GMOs and glyphosate and packaged in biodegradable bags or reusable pails. Available in bulk and currently on sale!
Healthy Traditions is a U.S. company that imports oats from Italy. These oats are traditionally grown on a single farm using organic practices with no chemical pesticides or herbicides. However, the oats are not certified organic, nor are they certified by The Detox Project.
Why recommend this brand, then? Bceause Healthy Traditions has been testing its products for glyphosate since 2014. It currently tests every batch of oats for glyphosate and consistently finds none, likely thanks to the Italian regulations that limit the use of this chemical herbicide. The company policy is that if it detects any residue, it won’t sell the product. This amounts to a zero-tolerance policy on glyphosate. Healthy Traditions uses Eurofins for its GMO and glyphosate testing.
Healthy Traditions also processes the oats in a small family-run mill in Texas, using no heat processing. The mill is dedicated to milling only grains that are free from pesticides and herbicides, meaning little risk of contamination at this stage. In fact, Healthy Traditions tests any milled products after milling, unless the mill exclusively processes glyphosate tested and GMO tested products
I also like Healthy Traditions because, unlike most other oats out there, it acknowledges the oddness of taking great pains to source a clean product only to package it in plastic. So, instead, Healthy Traditions packages most of its oats in a modified atmosphere bag where all the oxygen has been removed. This helps to maintain freshness while the bag remains sealed.
The brown bags are biodegradable in your home compost or municipal compost and have been third-party tested and confirmed to leave no pollutants after fully decomposing into organic matter. They have also been tested and found not to leach any heavy metals or pollutants into food. Because of this choice of packaging, Healthy Traditions recommends you store the oats in the freezer wherever possible.
Healthy Traditions also offers a 35 lb. pail of whole grain oat groats in a 5-gallon screw top pail that is moisture-resistant. This can either be recycled or, preferably, reused for storing other bulk foods or even as a handy planter for tomatoes.
Healthy Traditions offers free shipping on orders over $160, at least for non-perishable items.
Avena Foods / Only Oats
Highlights: A specialty miller providing organic, gluten-free, certified glyphosate residue free oats to food manufacturers. Sells direct to consumers only as Only Oats in Canada.
Avena Foods is a specialty miller that provides sustainably grown gluten-free and certified glyphosate residue free oats and pulse products to manufacturers. This includes manufacturers of food for humans, food for pets, and nutraceuticals.
Avena’s gluten-free oats are grown and processed using the company’s Purity Protocol, a multi-faceted food safety system that “provides safe, traceable pure oats resulting in certified gluten-free oat ingredients (<10 ppm)”. The milling facility is in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, with a new mill in Rowatt, Saskatchewan, set to go online in January 2023. All Avena’s oat facilities are FSSC 22000 certified and the company conducts comprehensive testing on both incoming oats and finished products.
Using this protocol, Avena offers the following oat products:
- Extra-fine Oat Flour (80% thru US #100)
- Fine Oat Flour (85% thru US #35)
- Course Oat Flour (50% thru US #35)
- Toasted Oat Flour (85% thru US #35)
- Quick-cooking Oats / Baby Oats (#24)
- Rolled Oats (standard thickness #5)
- Granola Rolled Oats (thicker #4)
- Hefty Oat Flakes (thickest #3)
- Steel cut oats
- Oat groats.
Avena sources its products from farmers in the Canadian Prairies, including organic and conventional farms. The company is also increasingly working with farmers to promote regenerative agriculture practices. Avena dry-mills its products using little or no water and its pulse flour and fiber mill in Manitoba runs almost entirely on renewable energy. The company deliberately locates its facilities in areas where the oats and pulses are grown, so as to minimize Avena’s carbon footprint.
To minimize waste, Avena directs 100% of raw materials to food, beverage, and pet food or feed markets. The company also partners with Field to Market Canada to promote sustainability in field crop practices and operates on a triple bottom-line basis for people, planet, and profit.
Avena products currently certified Glyphosate Residue Free include: RTC Rolled Oats, RTE Rolled Oats, RTC Hefty Flaked Oats, RTE Hefty Flaked Oats, RTC Granola Rolled Oats, RTE Granola Rolled Oats, RTC Quick Oat Flakes, RTE Quick Oat Flakes, RTC Thin Rolled Oats, RTE Thin Rolled Oats, RTC Oat Bran, RTE Oat Bran, RTC Steel CutOats, RTE Steel Cut Oats, RTC Oat Groats, RTE Oat Groats, RTC Coarse Grind Oat Flour, RTE Coarse Grind Oat Flour, RTC Toasted Oat Flour, RTE Toasted Oat Flour, RTC Fine Grind Oat Flour, RTE Fine Grind Oat Flour, RTC Oat Flour Grade 001, RTE Oat Flour Grade 001, RTC Extra Fine Grind Oat Flour, RTE Extra Fine Grind Oat Flour , “RTC Quick Steel Cut Oats (Baby Steel Cuts)”, “RTE Quick Steel Cut Oats (Baby Steel Cuts)”, RTC Fine Grind Oat Bran Flour, RTC Best Fine Grind Oat Flour, and RTC Oat Hulls.
Avena Foods doesn’t sell direct to consumer, but the company does appear to operate a consumer-facing brand called Only Oats. Unfortunately, this brand seems to only be available in Canadian stores and not in the U.S. So, if you’re a U.S. reader who really wants some top quality oats, stock up next time you’re in the north!
Highlights: Almond Cow is a fantastic option for anyone wanting to save money by making their own plant-based milks at home. Get your milk-maker and accessories here, plus ingredients including glyphosate free organic oats.
Almond Cow specializes in providing bulk supplies of organic oats, organic coconut shreds, bee-friendly almonds, and organic cashews for folks who want to make their own dairy-free milk at home. The company also sells milk-makers and other products for the at-home plant-based milk connoisseur.
Almond Cow’s oats are in groat form, i.e., whole grain oats that are completely unprocessed. These work much better than processed oats for making oat milk as they help avoid the slimy consistency of processed oats.
The oat groats are:
- Certified Gluten-Free
- USDA Certified Organic
- Glyphosate Residue Free – Approved by DetoxProject.
Almond Cow offers a 3 lb. bag for $12.95 and a case of 10 bags for $116 currently. It also offers a subscription service that saves you 10%. You can get free shipping on orders over $60.
The only reason I’ve knocked off a leaf for this company is because they ship all their ingredients in plastic packaging and don’t seem to have a way for customers to return this for recycling. Nor does the company mention any sustainability initiatives.
Highlights: Oatmeal blends that are certified glyphosate residue free and made with organic oats and other organic ingredients. Sold by a company that tries to be more sustainable than most.
Laird Superfood sells a range of plant-based products but just two appear to be certified glyphosate residue free. These are the Trail Mix Fix Oatmeal and the How Bout Dem Apples Oatmeal. The latter contains: Almonds, Organic Chia Seeds, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Coconut Sugar, Organic Dates, Organic Dried Apples, Organic Ginger, Organic Rolled Oats, and Sea Salt.
Laird Superfood was co-founded in 2015 by surfer Laird Hamilton and tries to be environmentally conscious. The company hasn’t found a plastic-free way to sell its oats yet, but it does try to include multiple servings per package to minimize waste. It also tries to source ingredients locally and from organic farms that operate sustainably and ethically.
In addition, Laird Superfood composts and recycles, uses solar power, offers sustainable commuting benefits for its staff, and has an employee-led Sustainability Committee that helps identify ways to lower its carbon footprint.
Red Tractor Foods
Highlights: Australian company selling certified glyphosate residue free oats, including some organic oats and oatmeal mixes. Available in the U.S. at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods.
Red Tractor Foods has been around since 2013 and is an Australian company selling oats and oatmeal. The company is listed at The Detox Project for the following certified glyphosate residue free products:
- Australian Creamy Style Rolled Oats
- Australian Creamy Style Instant Oats
- Australian Creamy Style Gluten Free Oats
- Coconut Instant Oatmeal
- Protein Instant Oatmeal
- Australian Creamy Style Organic Oats
- Bulk Oats.
None of Red Tractor Oats are certified gluten-free but the company’s Wheat Free Oats are grown and processed in facilities free from gluten contamination.
The company uses plastic packaging that is labeled #7, meaning it is a multi-layered plastic that it harder to recycle. If you have soft plastics recycling where you live, great. If not, you might want to look for oats that are grown closer to home to minimize some of the environmental impact. Currently, Red Tractor Foods sources most of its oats from Western Australia, though its Organic Wheat Free Oats are sourced from Canada. This means the oats are likely to be shipped from Canada to Australia and back to the U.S. before they get to your breakfast table.
Red Tractor Foods doesn’t sell direct to consumers, but you can find the brand in TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods in the U.S.
Highlights: Overnight oats, ready-to-go, in a variety of flavors, made using certified glyphosate residue free oats. Not organic, though, and creates a lot of plastic packaging waste.
MUSH Foods offers a variety of pre-made Overnight Oats, including the following flavors: Vanilla Bean, Dark Chocolate, Apple Pie, Coffee + Coconut Cream, Peanut Butter Swirl Crunch, Strawberry, Wild Blueberry, and more.
The company exclusively uses Detox Project certified glyphosate residue free oats but these oats and other ingredients are not organic. MUSH does seem committed to using natural ingredients, with fewer than eight ingredients in most flavors of the overnight oats. This means there are no artificial flavors or preservatives in the oats.
MUSH products are:
- Certified Glyphosate Residue Free by the Detox Project
- Certified gluten-free.
Unfortunately, the nature of this ready-to-go product means a lot of packaging, all of which appears to be single-use plastic. MUSH doesn’t have a plastic takeback program either, nor any other sustainability initiatives as far as I can tell.
MUSH offers a subscription plan on some products, with a 10% discount on the one-off price. You can also get free shipping at MUSH on orders over $50. Or find MUSH at your local Wholefoods, Safeway, Sprouts, and other retail stores.
Other oat products certified glyphosate residue free
In addition to the handful of oats and oatmeal that are certified glyphosate residue free, a few other oat products also carry the certification. These include:
- Heavenly Hunks cookies (view on Amazon, view on Thrive Market)
- Tattooed Chef oat butter bars (not yet available but you can read about them here)
- Elmhurst Milked plant-milks (view on Thrive Market).
Final thoughts on glyphosate free oats
While researching this article, I was genuinely surprised to see so little progress on glyphosate certification in the U.S. It’s great that The Detox Project still exists and is slowly adding companies, but I would have expected, given the increasing awareness of the dangers of Roundup, that more brands would have taken pains to get certified.
What this suggests to me is that most brands selling U.S. grown oats are not confident that their products would pass third-party testing for glyphosate residues. This speaks to how pervasive the use of glyphosate remains in the U.S. Even organic oats are permitted to contain some level of glyphosate. If there was a zero-tolerance policy on glyphosate residues, chances are we would see very few oat products retain their organic status.
Here’s hoping that the EPA will reassess its stance on glyphosate soon and that use of this chemical decreases rapidly. The evidence suggests this would be better for farmers, their neighbors, wildlife, biodiversity, healthier oats and healthier consumers.