Advertisement for Quaker Oats by the American Cereal Company in Chicago, Illinois, 1901. The Derrick Advertising agency is noted. (Photo by Jay Paull/Getty Images)
The Quaker Oats Scandal You've Probably Never Heard Of
By Elaina Friedman
Everything about Quaker Oats may ring wholesome on the surface, but the company is not without its scandals. In 2018, an environmental research and advocacy organization named the Environmental Working Group found traces of the potentially carcinogenic herbicide, glyphosate, in boxes of Cheerios, Quaker Oats, and other breakfast products, resulting in class-action lawsuits against Quaker Oats in New York and California.
However, for participants of the science club at Fernald State School in Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1940s and 1950s, mistreatment took the form of their daily serving of Quaker oatmeal, which was laced with radioactive tracers. Bolstered by the support of MIT and the Atomic Energy Commission, a local nutrition professor used school members between the ages of 10 and 17 to exercise three experiments involving radioactive iron and calcium.
The experiments were meant to prove that the nutrients in Quaker oatmeal "travel throughout the body," per The Washington Post. Quaker Oats was far from unaware of its role in these abusive experiments, and the brand ponied up a $1.85 million settlement alongside MIT in 1998, officially putting the scandal to rest.