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Cheerios, the nation's bestselling cereal, may contain high levels of a toxic pesticide, according to two class-action lawsuits filed earlier this year.

The federal suits claim several varieties of Cheerios have up to three times a proposed "safe" level of the pesticide chlormequat chloride, which has been shown to disrupt fetal growth and reproductive systems in animal studies.

"No reasonable consumer would ever expect that a food product — especially one heavily marketed to children and families — would contain dangerous pesticides," said one of the suits, filed in California.

"Failure to disclose that the products contain, or risk containing, a dangerous pesticide that can affect human health is misleading," said the other, filed in New York.

Golden Valley-based General Mills said Wednesday it does not comment on pending litigation. Judges in both cases recently granted the company an extra month to file responses to the lawsuits, which are seeking more than $5 million in damages.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not currently allow chlormequat on domestically grown food crops but is considering allowing it after opening the door to chlormequat residue on some imported grains in 2018. The pesticide can prevent plants from bending over, impeding harvest, and it "works to control plant size by blocking the hormones that stimulate growth prior to bloom," according to the EPA.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) found chlormequat in Cheerios, Quaker Oats and other nonorganic oat products in tests last year, and also in increasing frequency in the urine of several dozen adults in the U.S. in recent years.

"Animal studies show chlormequat can damage the reproductive system and disrupt fetal growth, creating particular concerns about how ingesting it might harm children," the advocacy group wrote.

Cheerios, often one of the first solid foods young children eat, have had a moment in the spotlight lately. Kathy Cargill incorrectly used the phrase "peed in his Cheerios" in a Wall Street Journal interview about her property purchases in Duluth and the ensuing pushback over her lack of transparency.

The phrase is more commonly heard as "Who peed in your Cheerios?" to refer to someone's grumpiness.

In response to the squabble, Duluthians donated hundreds of boxes of Cheerios and $50,000 to local food pantries and nonprofits in recent weeks.

Cargill, the company, is a major supplier for General Mills.