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What is Chlormequat? Pesticide Found in Cheerios & Quaker Oats

The Lyon Firm is investigating new claims that popular breakfast cereals contain unapproved pesticides. A class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of American consumers, seeking compensation and more stringent regulatory standards in the food industry. Contact our consumer protection lawyers for a free case review.

Unapproved Pesticide Found in Quaker Oats & Cheerios

A new study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology found that 80 percent of tested Americans had the pesticide chlormequat in their systems.

The study examined urine samples of 96 random American participants between 2017 and 2023. Not only did some individuals have concentrations of chlormequat in their urine for the entirety of the study, but the percentage of positive tests increased by more than 20% during that time frame, from 69% in 2017 to 90% in 2023.

Researchers have linked the individuals’ toxicity to consumption of oats and other grains grown with a regulating agent that is currently not approved for use on edible crops in the U.S.

The lawsuit filed against Quaker Foods cites research saying that several of their products tested positive for chlormequat chloride, including:

  • Simply Granola Oats Honey & Almonds
  • Old Fashioned Oats
  • Oatmeal Squares Honey Nut
  • Oatmeal Squares Brown Sugar
  • Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar
  • Chewy Dark Chocolate Chunk

General Mills was also named as a defendant in a recent class action complaint, alleging that their flagship Cheerios brands also contain high levels of chlormequat.

The General Mills lawsuit claims that an independent lab found that Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios and Oat Crunch Oats N’ Honey Cheerios all contained high levels of the pesticide.

Some generic store-brand granola and cereals also tested positive for the chemical, including Walmart and Target brands.

Our product liability lawyers are reviewing toxic exposure and food contamination cases on behalf of American consumers in all fifty states. We have filed numerous product liability lawsuits against companies that fail to properly test their products before they are sold to the public.

What is Chlormequat?

Chlormequat chloride is a pesticide used as a plant growth regulator. The chemical works by decreasing stem height, which prevents crops from bending over and eases harvesting difficulties. It is commonly used by agricultural firms on wheat, oats and barley.

Chlormequat is not approved for use on edible plants in the U.S., only for use in ornamental plants like flowers. It is approved for more widespread use, however, in the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided in 2018 to allow the import of foods treated with this particular pesticide. The EPA even increased the allowable limit of chlormequat in oats in 2020.

Even though it is prohibited from direct use on crops, high temperatures in food processing can create low levels of chlormequat in wheat products and egg powder.

Understanding the Results of the Chlormequat Study

According to a brief published alongside the Environmental Working Group (EWG) study, these new findings are concerning due to the potential hazards of consuming pesticides on a regular basis, and also due to widespread contamination in popular oat and wheat-based products, including Cheerios and Quaker Oats.

An earlier study also found the chemical in 92% of oat-based foods purchased and tested in May 2023, including Quaker Oats and Cheerios. The EWG tested 13 oat-based foods like Cheerios and Quaker Old Fashioned Oats and detected “unsafe” levels of the pesticide.

What are the Effects of Chlormequat Exposure?

It is widely believed that consumers should try their best to limit their exposure to pesticides and chemicals in their food supply. Many experts recommend buying and consuming organic food products, which aren’t grown with synthetic pesticides like chlormequat, to reduce the chance of long-term exposure. Chlormequat only stays in the human body for 24 hours, so the high levels found in the test population described above suggested a chronic exposure.

With that said, scientists don’t know the extent of any negative impact of chlormequat on the human body, as testing has thus far only been focused on animals. Chlormequat exposure in rats, however, has shown reduced sperm motility, decreased male testosterone levels, delayed onset of puberty and decreased weights of male reproductive organs.

It’s common to use animal study results when making regulatory decisions about the safety of chemicals and pesticides because researchers can’t deliberately expose humans to some of these chemicals. In the early 2000s, researchers evaluated the effect of chlormequat on reproductive health in animals. A Danish study in 2006 found that the chemical had negative impacts on sperm production in male rats and reproductive function in pigs.

A 2020 study found that when pregnant rats were exposed to chlormequat at levels deemed safe by the WHO and the EPA, it elevated growth hormone levels in the embryos and harmed the health of the babies after birth.

Quaker Oats Food Contamination History

Quaker Foods allegedly told reporters recently that it adheres “to all regulatory guidelines to ensure the safest, highest quality products for our consumers.”

Food companies say their oat products meet government safety standards, yet consumer advocates still would like to take a closer look at some companies with a history of selling food with various contaminants.

A few years back, Quaker Foods was defending itself in a similar debacle that found their oats tested positive for glyphosate, an herbicide used to keep weeds at bay. Glyphosate has been found in several types of oat products.

Contact our legal team to learn more about your legal recourse when companies produce, market and sell products contaminated with unapproved chemicals. You may be able to file a claim against a food company that fails to properly test their products, or that misrepresents the safety of their product.

The Lyon Firm has the experience, resources and dedication to take on large American corporations when they sell contaminated products to the public. As consumers, we expect companies to be held accountable when they fail to provide safe food products to you and your family. We have settled numerous defective product cases on behalf of plaintiffs nationwide, and provide free consultations. Contact our class action attorneys to learn more about ongoing Consumer protection litigation.