Category Archives: Natural Claims

Defining Natural Foods … the government seems to need our help

Natural Food DefinitionThe FDA need consumer help to define Natural Foods. really sat down and thought about this. We’ve decided that the government turning to the public for help defining natural foods is a good thing. That’s because it’s our opinion that they have managed to get more than a few things wrong in the world of food when left to their own devises. We’re hopeful that the public will weigh in on this with the same kind of gusto we’ve seen challenge the food industry for making untruthful claims.

The government, or more specifically, The Food and Drug Administration is seeking your input to answer a question: How should the agency define “natural” on food labels?

Disagreement over what “all natural” or “100 percent natural” means has spawned dozens of lawsuits. Consumers have challenged the naturalness of all kinds of food products.

For instance, can a product that contains high fructose corn syrup be labeled as natural? What about products that contain genetically modified ingredients?

The FDA has received three citizen petitions asking for clarification. And, beginning Thursday, the agency will ask us — the public — to weigh in. Comments can be submitted electronically.

Developing a comprehensive, legal definition for this buzzword may be tough. After all, saying something is natural is a little bit like saying something is beautiful. The judgment is in the eye of the beholder.

Ivan Wasserman, a lawyer with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Philips who tracks this issue was asked some questions.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking people to weigh in on a definition for the term “natural” on food labels. Will this process lead to a new rule — a codified, legal definition?

By requesting comments, the FDA is obligated to review them. So, [the agency] has certainly taken on a big project in simply announcing this. But it has not announced that it’s creating a new rule or definition.

The FDA says it has had a long-standing policy on this issue and has “considered the term ‘natural’ to mean … nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source).” So why is there still confusion over what counts as “natural”?

This policy does not address a lot of these newer issues [such as GMO ingredients, or newer ways of processing foods].

If the FDA were to create a more strict, more comprehensive definition, it would give manufacturers a lot more guidance on whether or not they could use the term “natural” on their food products.

There have been a lot of class-action lawsuits brought against companies that have labeled their products as “natural.” What are some of the most interesting examples?

Some of the original cases were brought against companies that included high fructose corn syrup in their products — which is obviously an ingredient that comes from corn, but has been processed. And there have been lawsuits against companies for including genetically modified ingredients in their products.

There are a lot of sides to this argument. And I think at the end of this process if the FDA does create a definition for “natural,” it’s going to be hard to satisfy everyone.

Food companies may also like the looser language since it gives them more wiggle room to use the term “natural.” Can you think of any precedents here — in food law — of creating stricter standards for food labels?

Yes: the organic label. If you see the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] organic seal on a food product, that has a very strict program [and set of rules] on what foods can bear that seal. So there is some precedent. But the term “natural” is a little more vague.

Do you agree that natural is a vague term?

We’ve always had an issue with the government definition for the ingredient “Natural Flavor.” By government definition it refers to a combination of ingredients that are derived from natural sources. There are some problems with that – in the first place that one ingredient, “Natural Flavor” is actually more than one ingredient. You’ll just never know which ingredients that manufacturer used to create the single “Natural Flavor.” You’ll also never know if you’re allergic to any of them … or if the manufacturer chemically processed a substance that was derived from natural sources. So there’s a big gray area concerning whether or not those ingredients are really natural. They may have started out that way, but you have no way of knowing exactly how it was processed to become part of that “Natural Flavor.”

We actually find the government definition of “Natural Flavor” to be vague … not necessarily the word natural. In fact, we’re pretty sure we could come up with a definition – and we’re pretty sure concerned consumers can as well.

Let’s all give the FDA our very specific ideas! We’re the people they need to hear from on this very important issue. So visit this link: and follow the instructions. Let’s tell them that GMO ingredients aren’t natural … that high fructose corn syrup isn’t natural … that natural flavor needs a more sensible definition – and the other actual facts surrounding this issue that in truth really aren’t vague at all!

General Mills settles suit over 100% Natural claims on Nature Valley Granola Bars

Earns General MillsHere at we often talk about the “halo effect” surrounding certain food products. Language used on certain food products is often designed to impart a certain image. The brand name Nature Valley, for instance, ascribes a wholesome stature to products bearing the name. And often you’ll find 100% natural claims on Nature Valley products.

The non-profit Center for Science in the Public acts as a sort of truth squad for food claims, outing many “good for you” labels and ads for the shameless distortions that they are.

Now, the center reports the settlement of a suit it brought against General Mills for calling Nature Valley granola bars and other products “100% Natural” even though they contained highly processed sweeteners. (Wait, you mean “high-fructose corn syrup” doesn’t just count as corn?) From it’s press release:

WASHINGTON—A settlement agreement announced today prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars, crispy squares, and trail mix bars are “100% Natural” if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. The agreement, which is effective immediately and applies to labeling and marketing for 30 Nature Valley products, settles a 2012 lawsuit brought on behalf of consumers by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and two law firms.
CSPI privately raised its concern with General Mills over its “100% Natural” claims as early as 2005. The company began phasing out its use of high-fructose corn syrup in some products, but at the time of CSPI’s lawsuit was still using high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. While those ingredients are derived from corn, they are produced by treating corn starch with acids, enzymes, or both before being refined into a substance that does not occur in nature.

The center notes that a bill introduced in Congress in 2013 “would prohibit the use of the word ‘natural’ on a food that includes any synthesized ingredient, or any ingredient that has undergone chemical changes such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, maltodextrin, chemically modified food starch, or alkalized cocoa.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that some Nature Valley packaging had apparently already been changed. It says a “spokeswoman for General Mills said the changes were made in 2012 and preceded the lawsuits, which she said the company fought because the suits sought damages. She said General Mills agreed to the settlement to avoid further litigation, and has no plans to change its current labels.”

The Journal also reports that lawsuits over “natural” labeling have been proliferating of late, with more than 100 filed in recent years.

Consumers have targeted PepsiCo Inc., Campbell Soup Co. , Ben & Jerry’s, Kashi, Skinnygirl and dozens of other food and drink brands.

Several companies have quietly removed “natural” claims from the juice, ice cream, potato chips and other foods they make. Campbell eliminated the claim from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and Pepsi got rid of the phrasing on its Naked juice bottle.

A commenter on The Wall Street Journal story writes:

The sad truth is that if you are buying something in a wrapper, box, can or any sealed container, it almost certainly is adulterated with either sugar, hydrogenated oil, preservatives, or all of these, not to mention excess salt, and “additives.”

Go to your friendly neighborhood chain food market and take a magnifying glass. Read the labels on “breakfast cereal”. Of the fifty brands there, chances are that all fifty contain added sugar/corn syrup, or concentrated fruit juice for sweetening. Do the same with “juices” and discover there MAY be ONE or TWO actual juices there, everything else is adulterated and soaked in corn syrup. Basically if it’s in a container, it’s semi junk or junk food.

None of this comes as a surprise to the community. And while it is true that many manufacturers have removed natural claims from their labels, well … let’s just say it remains a good idea to read ingredient lists consistently. Remember, every manufacture can change ingredients without notification. A while back, Hunt’s promoted the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its ketchup. Shortly thereafter, it reverted to using high-fructose corn syrup because they claimed consumers preferred the original recipe. They do still have a version of their ketchup without HFCS. But the whole chain of events occurred very quietly.

Be a consistent label reader who isn’t influence by packaging claims and you’ll naturally avoid unnatural ingredients!

Can Annie’s Homegrown survive General Mills’ ownership in tact? was quite surprised to hear the news that Annie’s Homegrown has been purchased and incorporated into the General Mills’ family of products. We were immediately reminded of Kashi and the Kellogg Company. While Kashi has been able to maintain some of its previous commitment to food quality, we do have to think about a long list of difficulties that have included lawsuits regarding unsubstantiated “natural” claims for many of its products. That wouldn’t have happened prior to its mainstream ownership. So what will happen to Annie’s Homegrown and can we anticipate the same sort of problems occurring with this much-loved brand?

Annie’s Homegrown specializes in good-for-your versions of guilty foods like Hamburger Helper. Now it has been bought by the company that actually makes Hamburger Helper. In mid-September, Annie’s became the sister of Betty Crocker and dozens of other non-natural brands that make up the food conglomerate General Mills.

Does this mean that Annie’s Cheeseburger Skillet meal, made from organic pasta and non-GMO ingredients, will soon become an unhealthy stew of trans fats, MSG, and the artificial flavors found in Hamburger Helper’s Cheeseburger Macaroni? Will future versions of Annie’s cute little cheddar bunny crackers contain Franken-ingredients like the de-germed yellow corn meal found in GM’s Chex Mix?

Probably not. GM may be the home of Lucky Charms and Totino’s Pizza Rolls, but it also owns the organic and natural brands Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, and Larabar. Food experts say there’s no reason GM would pay millions of dollars for these trusted brands just to destroy them. Of course, GM could make subtle ingredient changes that would slowly de-healthify its natural and organic brands to save money.

But retailers believe that, so far, this hasn’t been the case. David Clark, COO of online grocer Door to Door Organics, says despite being owned by General Mills for 15 years, Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen products still meet Door to Door’s standards, which include having no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, growth hormones, or artificial flavors or colors. He hopes the same will hold true for Annie’s.

We hope they’re right. Even we have to admit that the General Mills’ brand family DOES in fact include natural and organic brands. The problem with that, though, is that there are many consumers who think twice before picking up a Cascadian Farm organic product BECAUSE of its General Mills’ ownership. We know that there are countless families who depend on Annie’s products for their children. They choose Cheddar Bunnies instead of Goldfish, Cheeseburger Skillet Meal instead of Hamburger Helper, Mac and Cheese with real ingredients. Annie’s Homegrown plays an important role in the lives of nutritionally aware families. It’s a role we hope continues regardless of their ownership.

Kellogg’s dropping “Natural” labeling on certain Kashi products in response to another lawsuit

Kellogg's Drops Natural Claims from Certain Kashi ProductsThe latest in an unending series of manufacturer responses to lawsuits regarding false “natural” claims …

Cereal giant Kellogg’s says it will no longer use the labels “All Natural” or “Nothing Artificial” on certain Kashi products as part of an agreement to settle a class-action lawsuit. The company will also pay $5 million to settle the suit.

In a statement, Kashi’s corporate parent, Kellogg Co. said it stood by its advertising and labeling practices but that it would change its formulas or labels nationally by the end of the year.

The suit had accused Kashi of misleading people by using the phrase “All Natural” or “Nothing Artificial” on products that contained a variety of synthetic and artificial ingredients. Among the ingredients listed in the suit were pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate, hexane-processed soy ingredients, ascorbic acid, glycerin and sodium phosphate.

The settlement was filed May 2 in U.S. District Court in California and is subject to court approval.

As people look to stick to diets they feel are wholesome, companies have flooded supermarket shelves with products marketed as being “natural.” But more recently, numerous lawsuits have challenged their use of the term on products that contain ingredients some say don’t fit that definition.

The mounting legal challenges have prompted several companies to remove the word from packaging. PepsiCo Inc., for instance, changed its “Simply Natural” line of Frito-Lay chips to “Simply,” even though the ingredients didn’t change. Likewise, its “Natural Quaker Granola” was changed to “Simply Quaker Granola.”

PepsiCo also agreed to remove the words “all natural” from its Naked juices to settle a lawsuit that noted the drinks contained artificial ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration says it doesn’t have an official definition for the term “natural,” noting that a food product has likely been processed and is “no longer the product of the earth.” But the agency notes that it has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.

While certainly understands the FDA’s stance regarding artificial colors and flavors, we do wonder about their definition of synthetic substances. And yes, they are right about food products likely having been processed, but we’d love for them to take a good look at the ingredient lists for some organic and gluten-free food products. While some of these packaged organic and gluten-free foods could technically be called processed, their ingredient lists look nothing like their counterparts. We have to believe that if some manufacturers can manage to use ingredients that can easily be defined as natural, they probably all can. That said, we also think that the FDA can come up with a definition for natural that could bring an end to the false claims — and the lawsuits.