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Kellogg’s commits to reducing widely used herbicide in supply chain. But farmers didn’t know about it.

The cereal company says it will phase out oats and wheat that have been treated with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, as a drying agent

(Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Kellogg’s, the multinational food manufacturer based in Battle Creek, Mich., is taking a stand.

But very quietly.

At the end of 2019, the company made a commitment to phase out by 2025 wheat and oats on which farmers have used glyphosate as a drying agent, according to Kellogg’s chief sustainability officer Amy Senter. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the Bayer-Monsanto weedkiller that is the most heavily used herbicide in the United States.

Although this practice is not widespread in Kellogg’s wheat and oat supply chains, the company said in a post on its Open for Breakfast website that “we are working with our suppliers to phase out using glyphosate as pre-harvest drying agent in our wheat and oat supply chain in our major markets.” That includes Britain, France, the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

“We are working with our suppliers and other stakeholders to create an action plan for 2025,” Senter said.

But Kellogg’s neglected to tell the industry groups that support wheat and oat growers, said Caitlin Eannello, the director of communications for the National Association of Wheat Growers.

“We heard something [about it] this morning but didn’t realize this was in the works on their end, and we’re trying to find out exactly what it means,” Eannello said in a phone interview. “Glyphosate is very safe, and there’s no real alternative. If it were to be totally eradicated, producers would probably stop growing. [Kellogg’s] made an announcement without talking to us. ”

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Eannello says pre-harvest applications of glyphosate occur on 3 percent or less of wheat acreage in the United States. These applications typically occur when wheat kernel development is complete and the crop has matured, just a little more than seven days before harvest, so that the wheat plant is not absorbing the glyphosate but the green weeds in the fields will be killed by it.

According to the National Wheat Foundation, glyphosate application in wheat typically occurs during fallow times. It is not approved for use as a drying agent before harvest, a practice that originated in Scotland in the 1980s. The herbicide is applied to standing crops toward the end of the season to speed drying so they can be harvested before bad weather sets in.

Senter said the Kellogg Company has been engaging with suppliers about pesticide use, including desiccation with glyphosate, in their ingredient supply chains since before 2017.

“We have publicly reported on this engagement, including feedback we received from farmers and suppliers on glyphosate use in North America,” she said in a statement. “We also directly support farmers and suppliers in our sourcing regions to drive sustainable agriculture, including on integrated pest management.”

A 2018 study by the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate in all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats, most at higher levels than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health. They also found a third of the 16 samples made with organically grown oats had glyphosate, but at much lower levels.

Bayer looks well beyond its $10 billion Roundup payout

Although breakfast cereal sales declined last year by 4 percent, Kellogg’s reported revenue of $13.67 billion for the 12 months ending in September. And as the No. 2 cereal company behind General Mills, it still holds enormous sway over farms and other suppliers.

Bayer declined to comment on the Kellogg’s announcement.