• Are Your Oats Natural?

LC-MS

Are Your Oats Natural?

May 11 2016

How do you know what you’re eating? If it is something you have grown or raised and killed yourself — I’d guess you can be fairly certain that you know what you’re eating. For everything else we rely on trust — trust in the farmer or grower, trust in all aspects of the supply chain and distribution companies and trust in the retailers.

With people seemingly willing to pay a premium for produce labelled as organic or natural — it is important that food is labelled correctly. A lawsuit has been filed in the US against the owners of Quaker Oats, PepsiCo due to the presence of the herbicide glyphosate in the oatmeal.

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is probably one of the most widely used herbicides around — used in the agricultural industry and domestically as the product Roundup. The active chemical — an organophosphorus compound — has been used as an herbicide to control weeds for 50 years or so.

It’s use though is controversial, with environmental groups calling for it to be banned on both environmental grounds and due to its potential toxicity to humans and other wildlife. One of the main environmental concerns is its potential to contaminate surface waters — its use and testing is discussed in the article, Rapid Analysis of Glyphosate and its degradation Products in Surface Water Using UPLC-MS in Selected Ion Recording Mode.

What’s in a name?

The lawsuit is not because the pesticide was found in the product — but because the product is labelled as ‘natural’. The lawsuit, filed with the US District Court in California, states that:

There is nothing unlawful about Quaker Oats’ growing and processing methods. What is unlawful is Quaker’s claim that Quaker Oats is something that it is not in order to capitalize on growing consumer demand for healthful, natural products.

PepsiCo don’t add glyphosate to their oats during any part of the processing from farm to supermarket shelf — it is likely that the herbicide is used by the farmers before harvesting. The plaintiffs used an independent lab to conduct tests on Quaker Oats samples using liquid chromatography - mass spectrometry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit for the chemical is 30 parts per million — and the results returned by the lab were about 4 per cent of this limit. So does it make the oats unnatural?

Natural or not?

That depends on what is natural? This would appear to be the crux of the matter — and the answer is that nobody knows. In the US the Food and Drug Administration has asked the public and relevant bodies to submit comments on what natural means on a food label, so perhaps they might have an answer sometime in the future.

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency uses the description:

“Natural” means essentially that the product is comprised of natural ingredients, e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man.

So are Quaker Oats natural? Who knows — I guess the lawyers will decide.


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