Twinings Tea and Beech-Nut baby food are the targets of new lawsuits over the presence of the cancer-linked chemical glyphosate in their products.
Both the Twinings and Beech-Nut lawsuits are about how the products are marketed, not whether they pose a direct danger to consumers.
The Organic Consumers Association sued Twinings and its parent company Associated British Foods PLC
earlier this month, alleging the tea company misled consumers because its tea is labelled as “pure” and containing “100% natural ingredients” despite the fact it contains trace amounts of glyphosate, according to the lawsuit.
The Organic Consumers Association sued Twinings and its parent company Associated British Foods, alleging it misled consumers because its tea is labelled as containing ‘100% natural ingredients,’ despite the fact it contains trace amounts of glyphosate.
Twinings disputed the claims. “Twinings takes great pride in the quality of its products. We believe the facts will show that this suit is without merit,” Dan Martin, president and CEO of Twinings North America, told MarketWatch.
In a separate lawsuit also filed this month, the nonprofit Children’s Health Defense sued Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, claiming that Beech-Nut misrepresents its Naturals baby food line as “100% natural” despite containing glyphosate residue. Beech-Nut did not respond to requests for comment.
“The people who purchased this product have already evinced a preoccupation with good health and with reducing exposures to toxic chemicals,” Children’s Health Defense founder Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told MarketWatch.
“There are many people that if they knew there was glyphosate, which is a known carcinogen, in their baby food, would look for other options,” he said. “The company is making marketing claims and presenting its brand in a way that could lead people to believe that the product is chemical-free, and that is not true.”
‘We’re not suing Twinings because there’s glyphosate in their tea, we’re suing them because they claim their products are natural when clearly there’s multiple ingredients that are not natural.’
Both lawsuits contend that the term “natural” holds a lot of sway with consumers. Surveys show it does. A 2016 Consumer Reports poll found that most shoppers — 73% — look for the word “natural” on labels and expect these foods to contain no artificial ingredients or toxic pesticides, said Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Some shoppers are even under the incorrect assumption that “natural” is the same as “organic,” a USDA certification that means a crop was grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, Paul added.
The amount of glyphosate that OCA discovered in Twinings Tea is under the EPA’s allowable limit, but the amount isn’t the point, Paul said. “We’re not suing Twinings because there’s glyphosate in their tea, we’re suing them because they claim their products are natural when clearly there’s multiple ingredients that are not natural,” she said.
Other food products also have trace amounts of glyphosate
Nature Valley granola bars, Cheerios cereal, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Budweiser beer
and even organic wines have tested positive for trace amounts of glyphosate, the key ingredient in the widely-used weedkiller Roundup. Roundup, in turn, is commonly used in agriculture and that’s how traces make their way into our food.
Nature Valley granola bars, Cheerios cereal, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Budweiser beer and even organic wines have tested positive for trace amounts of glyphosate, the key ingredient in the widely-used weedkiller Roundup.
The chemical sets off alarm bells. A California jury in May awarded $2 billion to a couple who contended that Roundup gave them cancer, the third major jury award against Roundup maker Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer AG
Some 13,000 other plaintiffs — including a 12-year-old boy — have sued, alleging Roundup causes cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a carcinogen in 2015, but Bayer maintains that the chemical doesn’t cause cancer and is safe to use, noting in April that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reapproved it for use in the U.S. and said the toxin doesn’t pose a health risk to humans.
A Bayer spokesman, Daniel Childs, declined to comment on the litigation, but said “there is no reliable scientific evidence that glyphosate use results in levels of residue that pose health problems for consumers.” Childs told MarketWatch, “The reality is that regulatory authorities have strict rules when it comes to pesticide residues.”
Glyphosate ‘is everywhere’
It’s becoming almost routine for environmental and health advocacy groups to find glyphosate in food, and manufacturers frequently respond by saying the levels fall well below regulators’ safe limits.
In June, the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate in popular breakfast cereals — including Cheerios, which is owned by General Mills, and Quaker Oats oatmeal, which is owned by PepsiCo
— the third time in the past year the advocacy group has publicized the issue of glyphosate in food. In February, U.S. PIRG said it found the chemical in organic wines and beers, including Budweiser. The group says glyphosate should be banned “due to its many potential health risks and ubiquitous presence in food, water and alcohol.”
PepsiCo did not respond to request for comment. Quaker Oats has said previously that it stands by the safety of its products, and that it thoroughly washes its oats.
A spokesman for Budweiser
referred a request for comment to the Beer Institute.
‘Even if there were a safe amount — and we argue that there isn’t — if you hit that safe amount with your glass of O.J. and then you have a cup of tea and then you have ice cream, you’re going to exceed that safe amount.’
A Beer Institute spokesman said, “The results of the most recent federal testing showed farmers’ use of glyphosate falls well below federal limits. As the report itself says, the levels of glyphosate referenced ‘are below EPA risk tolerances for beverages.’”
The OCA previously sued General Mills
after discovering traces of glyphosate in granola bars, and it has an ongoing lawsuit against Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which is now owned by the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever
The General Mills case was settled. A spokesman said, “General Mills top priority is food safety and has been for over 150 years. Most crops grown in fields use some form of pesticides and trace amounts are found in the majority of food we all eat. Experts at the FDA and EPA determine the safe levels for food products.”
Like other manufacturers, the company noted that glyphosate is commonly used by farmers, and that the levels found in its products are “significantly below any regulatory limits and well within compliance of the safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as safe for human consumption.”
In fact, a certain level of glyphosate is allowed in food, and the FDA started testing samples of soybeans, corn, milk and eggs in 2016.
A spokesperson for Unilever, which owns Ben and Jerry’s, referred MarketWatch to a previous statement on the issue. In its earlier response to reports of glyphosate in its ice cream, the company said, “It’s everywhere — from mainstream food to natural and organic food, to rainwater — and that’s the issue.”
‘Ultimately it should not be the job of consumers to try to purchase their way out of the fact that we in this country don’t take a precautionary approach to chemical safety.’
Though food companies point out that the chemical is pervasive and only trace amounts show up in our meals, that logic doesn’t comfort Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association. “If glyphosate is in everything from your Cheerios to your cup of tea, there’s this cumulative effect,” she said.
She added, “So even if there were a safe amount — and we argue that there isn’t — if you hit that safe amount with your glass of O.J. and then you have a cup of tea and then you have ice cream, you’re going to exceed that safe amount.”
The ‘natural’ label is meaningless
Here’s a key point for health-conscious shoppers: There is no official definition for the word “natural” or “pure” on food labels, and no third parties verify a product’s “naturalness” or purity before companies use those words.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration publishes a 132-page guide for food manufacturers on questions like whether punch has to be made with fruit juice (it does not). But there’s no explanation of how and when companies can use “natural” or “pure,” an agency spokesman said.
Consumer Reports and others asked the agency to consider defining the term, and the FDA collected public comments on the issue in 2015, but it hasn’t taken action since, a spokesman said. “In general, we require food labeling to be truthful and not misleading and consider product labeling concerns on a case-by-case basis,” spokesman Nathan Arnold said.
How to protect yourself and your family
Shoppers are bombarded with news about chemicals in food, from arsenic in rice to heavy metals in fruit juice. It can be troubling and confusing to the average person, especially parents, but there’s no need to panic, said Dr. Aparna Bole, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health.
The best defense is to eat a wide variety of fresh and frozen whole foods, to wash produce carefully, and to avoid processed foods as much as possible (they’ve been linked to poor health), Bole said. Children are vulnerable to pesticides, and AAP has recommendations on how to protect kids. Children are at higher risk because their internal organs are still developing, and it’s easy for them to ingest pesticides because very small children often put their hands in their mouths, according to the AAP.
“Ultimately it should not be the job of consumers to try to purchase their way out of the fact that we, in this country, don’t take a precautionary approach to chemical safety,” Bole said. “It’s the role of policy makers and regulators to take more of a precautionary approach to chemical safety so we’re not diagnosing these problems downstream.”