Category Archives: natural

Can Annie’s Homegrown survive General Mills’ ownership in tact?

general-mills-largeFoodFacts.com 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.

http://www.prevention.com/food/smart-shopping/will-general-mills-ruin-annies-homegrown

Cinnamon holds promise as a treatment to halt the progression ofo Parkinson’s disease

Cinnamon barkThere is rarely a study we come across with results as striking as these. Neurological scientists at Rush University Medical Center have found that using cinnamon, a common food spice and flavoring material, can reverse the biomechanical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

“Cinnamon has been used widely as a spice throughout the world for centuries,” said Kalipada Pahan, study lead researcher and the Floyd A. Davis professor of neurology at Rush. “This could potentially be one of the safest approaches to halt disease progression in Parkinson’s patients.”

“Cinnamon is metabolized in the liver to sodium benzoate, which is an FDA-approved drug used in the treatment for hepatic metabolic defects associated with hyperammonemia,” said Pahan. It is also widely used as a food preservative due to its microbiocidal effect.”

Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamonum cassia) and original Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum) are two major types of cinnamon that are available in the US.

“Although both types of cinnamon are metabolized into sodium benzoate, by mass spectrometric analysis, we have seen that Ceylon cinnamon is much more pure than Chinese cinnamon as the latter contains coumarin, a hepatotoxic molecule,” said Pahan.

“Understanding how the disease works is important to developing effective drugs that protect the brain and stop the progression of PD,” said Pahan. “It is known that some important proteins like Parkin and DJ-1 decrease in the brain of PD patients.”

The study found that after oral feeding, ground cinnamon is metabolized into sodium benzoate, which then enters into the brain, stops the loss of Parkin and DJ-1, protects neurons, normalizes neurotransmitter levels, and improves motor functions in mice with PD.

This research was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health.

“Now we need to translate this finding to the clinic and test ground cinnamon in patients with PD. If these results are replicated in PD patients, it would be a remarkable advance in the treatment of this devastating neurodegenerative disease,” said Pahan.

Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disease that affects a small area of cells within the mid-brain known as the substantia nigra. Gradual degeneration of these cells causes a reduction in a vital chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine. The decrease in dopamine results in one or more of the classic signs of Parkinson’s disease that includes: resting tremor on one side of the body; generalized slowness of movement; stiffness of limbs; and gait or balance problems. The cause of the disease is unknown. Both environmental and genetic causes of the disease have been postulated.

Parkinson’s disease affects about 1.2 million patients in the United States and Canada. Although 15 percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50, it is generally considered a disease that targets older adults, affecting one of every 100 persons over the age of 60. This disease appears to be slightly more common in men than women.

This is breathtaking information. FoodFacts.com recalls the quote from Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” If the effects of cinnamon on mice with Parkinson’s disease can be replicated in human beings, this quote will certainly take on tremendous new meaning.

http://www.dddmag.com/news/2014/07/cinnamon-could-halt-progression-parkinson%E2%80%99s

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 FoodFacts.com 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.

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/suit-prompts-kelloggs-drop-natural-labels-kashi-products-n100391

Popchips go from “all natural” to “naturally delicious” in class-action lawsuit

Popchips.jpgAnd another one bites the dust in the “all natural” food claims on-going battle. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Popchips back in April of 2013 claiming that the brand knowingly deceived consumers by marketing its chip varieties as all natural when a number of the ingredients used in their formulation cannot be classified that way. More pointedly, the lawsuit states that “the artificial and synthetic ingredients contained in Defendant’s Popchips include autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, dextrose, disodium phosphate, lactic acid, malic acid,
maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, sodium citrate, tartaric acid, torula yeast, xanthan gum, and yeast extract.”

Earlier this month, Popchips acquiesced, settling the lawsuit for $2.4 million while claiming they had not misled consumers and had not made any false claims. At the same time, the company agreed to change the verbiage on their website, in their ads and on their product packaging from “all natural” to “naturally delicious.”

These lawsuits have been popular in the last few years, and that popularity isn’t dying out. FoodFacts.com has to wonder why manufacturers continue to make all natural claims when their ingredient lists certainly can’t back them up at all.

Let’s take a look at a popular Popchips flavor just so we can all understand a little more about the lawsuit and the ensuing settlement.

Popchips Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips
Potato(es) Natural (Potato(es) Flour, Potato(es) Starch) , Safflower and/or Sunflower Oil,Seasoning (Lactose, Salt, Buttermilk Powder, Onion(s) Powder, Sour Cream Solids [Cream, Milk Non-Fat, Cultures] , Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Sunflower Oil, Garlic Powder, Lactic Acid,Sodium Caseinate, Whey, Spice(s), Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Flavor(s) Natural [Including Butter Extractives] ) , Rice Flour, Salt

Our database has identified three controversial ingredients out of the 27 listed: corn maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, and natural flavors. All three are identified as hidden sources of MSG. Let’s just focus on the sodium caseinate. The lawsuit defines this as follows:

Sodium Caseinate is a highly processed substance. It is produced through the
mechanical or chemical extraction of casein from milk and the addition of sodium
hydroxide to dissolve the casein and stabilize the proteins for a longer shelf life.
The resulting mixture is evaporated and leaves a tasteless, odorless, white powder
that is added to food to act as an emulsifier and stabilizer.

Doesn’t sound all that natural, does it? In addition, one of the selling points listed on the website is no added preservatives. Since sodium caseinate helps to ensure a longer shelf life of the foods in which it is used, we can reasonably assume that it actually is a preservative.

Natural flavors, as many in our community understand, aren’t really natural at all. They are derived from natural substances, but can and do undergo chemical processes in order to extract various compounds from the substances. In addition, natural flavors are made up of many ingredients which are not disclosed on any list. In other words, not everything about a natural flavor has to be natural.

An example from the ingredient list of Barbecue Popchips is natural smoke flavor. The compound AM 01 gives natural smoke flavor its characteristic taste, this ingredient is usually made by burning beech wood (Fagus sylvatica l.) and the production process consist on the following steps: pyrolisis (heating, burning) of wood particles in a controlled environment, condensation of the hot vapors, dissolution of the raw product in a solvent and subsequent cleaning, and finally distillation of the solution with a desired concentration of AM 01. AM 01 is controversial. In 2009 the European Food Safety Administration evaluated the safety (genotoxic potential) of AM 01, they stated that the use of this ingredient should be of safety concern.

Not especially appetizing and not what we would consider natural.

For us, it isn’t surprising that Popchips, like all the manufacturers who have been named in these lawsuits, chose to settle. Product differentiation is a necessary element in marketing. If a product can’t set itself apart from its competitors, it won’t survive. It does seem that many manufacturers jump on the “healthy product” bandwagon without justification in order to accomplish that differentiation without much thought. Claiming their products are “all natural,” especially in an overcrowded, well-branded snack category might seem like a fairly immediate “win” for some manufacturers. Until some very educated, no-nonsense consumers take another look.

If you bought Popchips between January 1st 2007 and November 14th, 2013 thinking the product was all natural, you’re eligible to file a claim. Click here for the details: https://popchipssettlement.com/mainpage/FrequentlyAskedQuestions.aspx

http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/wellbeing/news/popchips-admit-its-snacks-arent-all-natural-either.php   

http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/PopChips-agrees-2.4m-all-natural-lawsuit-settlement-settlements-also-likely-in-Kashi-and-Bear-Naked-cases

 

 

 

 

 

Are Kashi and Bear Naked misleading consumers with “natural” claims?

In early December two class action lawsuits were certified by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California against two popular “natural” product companies — Kashi and Bear Naked Inc. The lawsuits claim that both companies have misled consumers with false claims of “100% Natural” or “Nothing Artificial” ingredient lists. The court has ruled that the plaintiffs have proven that some of the “natural” ingredient claims are not true and some of the ingredients used were synthetic.

FoodFacts.com is all too familiar with manufacturer claims of “natural” ingredients. There are many ways companies can make that claim legally, regardless of whether or not we would consider it true. Kashi and its subsidiary Bear Naked Inc. certainly wouldn’t be the first companies to assert that their claim of “natural” ingredients” is consistent with current federal law.

This lawsuit specifically states that Kashi and Bear Naked products were found to contain Alph-Tocopherol Acetate and Hexane-processed soy ingredients. Hexane is listed as a federal hazardous pollutant and was identified as a toxic contaminant by the California Assembly in 1993.

Kashi is a leader in the natural foods market and has successfully branded itself as a nutritional, environmentally conscious manufacturer. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit hope to show that Kashi is deceptive about its branding and misleads consumers to believe that their products do not contain artificial ingredients. They assert that as a result of their misleading labeling, Kashi has been able to sell products to hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide.

In addition, plaintiffs claim that Bear Naked labeled products containing potassium carbonate, glycerin and lecithin as “100% Natural”. These ingredients are all recognized synthetic chemicals under federal regulations.

Both companies deny that their labeling is misleading. Kashi and Bear Naked state that their claims are truthful and consistent with federal law. The trail will begin for both lawsuits on February 11, 2014.

It’s definitely worth noting that the use of the word “natural” by food manufacturers is in decline. That seems to be a direct result of lawsuits like these. FoodFacts.com believes that consumers are getting smarter about the branding practices of mainstream food manufacturers. But we also think that those same consumers can develop a strong relationship with companies like Kashi and Bear Naked because they aren’t necessarily viewed as mainstream manufacturers (even though they’re owned by Kellog’s). These aren’t the first lawsuits against these two companies. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the results. We’ll all be happier consumers when we can count on any manufacturer’s “natural” and “nothing artificial” claims.

http://www.examiner.com/article/court-certifies-lawsuit-against-kashi-bear-naked-for-false-natural-claims

Lawsuits being brought against food manufacturers for product misrepresentation

FoodFacts.com has long held the opinion that many of the products on our grocery store shelves are labeled in a misleading fashion, and don’t actually give consumers a clear representation of the products held in their boxes, cans and bags. Our community has always agreed with us. And it does appear that a controversy may be brewing over this practice.

Information has come to light that the same lawyers who brought millions of dollars in lawsuits against big tobacco companies (and won tremendous settlements form the likes of R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris) have been busy filing 25 new cases against food manufacturers, including ConAgra Foods, Heinz, General Mills and PepsiCo. These suits have been filed over the last four months and are claiming that these food manufacturers are mislabeling products and ingredients. Currently there are also lawsuits regarding Pam cooking spray, Swiss Miss cocoa products and some Hunt’s canned tomatoes.

While the food manufacturers are claiming that these are frivolous lawsuits and are strictly financially motivated, the lawyers are claiming that these cases could result in a cost of billions of dollars to the food companies.

For example, two mothers have brought a lawsuit against the makers of Nutella, claiming they were deceived into believing that the chocolate hazelnut spread was healthy for their kids. A similar suit was brought against PepsiCo three years ago accusing them of false advertising for Cap ‘n Crunch Crunch Berries cereal because it does not contain actual berries. The court felt that a “reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the product contained a berry that does not exist.” But is that really an analogous case? Of course, there are no such things as “crunch berries,” but Nutella certainly advertises itself as a healthy product that moms can feel good about serving their families. As a note, the product does not rate well on the FoodFacts.com website for a number of reasons.

In addition to the lawyers who filed suit against Big Tobacco, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has also filed suits against General Mills and McNeil Nutritionals over claims they make on Nature Valley and Splenda Essentials products. Both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are faced with many suits regarding the 100% natural claims on many of their products, as well.

The focus seems to be – as we would have suspected – on products that make claims of “natural” or “Healthy.” These claims, often, seem to be subjective. And since these products aren’t subjected to the same federal standards as organics, the claims really do reflect the purposes of the food manufacturer and not the nutrition labels or the ingredient lists.

With obesity at epidemic levels in this country, and food additives being linked every day to increasing health problems, FoodFacts.com wonders whether or not this will go the way of the old tobacco lawsuits. Initially, the courts declared smoking a personal choice that consumers make, hopefully understanding the health risks they are inflicting on themselves. It wasn’t until the tobacco companies were sued on behalf of states on the basis of the hundreds of millions of dollars caring for sick smokers that the settlements were won by the lawyers.

It does appear that this is a new trend that is just beginning to emerge. It’s a trend that may cost offending food manufacturers a tremendous amount of money and cause them to actually pull products from the shelves, until they rebrand, rename or redevelop many of their products so that they accurately depict nutritional value and ingredients used.
FoodFacts.com thinks that this is a trend worth watching and we’ll be keeping you informed as we discover more about what companies are being sued and why. In the meantime, here are two links for you to read and discover more about what’s happening: http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120819/NEWS0107/208190394/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/business/lawyers-of-big-tobacco-lawsuits-take-aim-at-food-industry.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&smid=tw-share

ConAgra Lawsuit: GMO’s are NOT Natural

wesson_01

Foodfacts.com would like to report that ConAgra is being sued for labeling “natural” on their GMO infested Wesson oils. As we all know, there is nothing natural about genetic modification. In fact, Monsanto itself defines their biotechnology as “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.” Consumers are rallying together to take down ConAgra. Maybe this will be another closer step towards GMO-labeling? Check out the story below!
wesson
If you use Wesson brand cooking oils, you may be able to join a class action against food giant ConAgra for deceptively marketing the products as natural.

These days it’s hard to walk down a supermarket aisle without bumping into a food product that claims to be “all-natural.” If you’ve ever wondered how even some junk food products can claim this moniker (witness: Cheetos Natural Puff White Cheddar Cheese Flavored Snacks – doesn’t that sound like it came straight from your garden?) the answer is simple if illogical: the Food and Drug Administration has not defined the term natural.

So food marketers, knowing that many shoppers are increasingly concerned about healthful eating, figured: why not just slap the natural label on anything we can get away with? That wishful thinking may soon be coming to an end if a few clever consumer lawyers have anything to say about it.

While various lawsuits have been filed in recent years claiming that food companies using the term natural are engaging in deceptive marketing, a suit filed in June in California against ConAgra could make the entire industrial food complex shake in its boots.

The plaintiff claims he relied on Wesson oils “100% natural” label, when the products are actually made from genetically modified organisms.

GMOs Not Exactly Natural, So Says Monsanto

Ironically, the complaint cites a definition of GMOs by none other than Monsanto, the company most notorious for its promotion of the technology. According to Monsanto, GMOs are: “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

The complaint also quotes a GMO definition from the World Health Organization: “Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”

Four Wesson varieties are implicated in the case: Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil, and Best Blend. And it’s not just on the label that ConAgra is using the natural claim, but also online and in print advertisements. (Additional silly health claims on the website include “cholesterol free”–vegetable oils couldn’t possibly contain cholesterol anyway.)

The complaint describes the extent of ConAgra’s deception, alleging the “labels are intended to evoke a natural, wholesome product.” And further:
green-heart
The “100% Natural” statement is, like much of the label on Wesson Oils, displayed in vibrant green. The “Wesson” name is haloed by the image of the sun, and the Canola Oil features a picture of a green heart.

A green heart — you just can’t get any healthier than that. However, as registered dietitian Andy Bellatti told me: “These oils are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which in excessive amounts are actually bad for your heart.” Guess they left that part out of the green heart icon.

Supermarkets Chock-full of GMOs

But what makes this lawsuit especially intriguing is its potentially far-ranging impact. According to the Center for Food Safety: “upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves — from soda to soup, crackers to condiments — contain genetically-engineered ingredients.” While it’s unclear how many of these products also claim to be natural, given all the green-washing going on these days, it’s likely to number in the thousands.

Specifically, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans, both extremely common ingredients in processed foods. Numerous groups including the Center for Food Safety have been calling attention to the potential hazards of GMOs for years. From their website:

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer.

Not exactly the stuff that green hearts are made of. The legal complaint also notes that on its corporate website (“but not on the Wesson site that consumers are more likely to visit”), ConAgra implies that its oils are genetically engineered. The company concludes: “Ultimately, consumers will decide what is acceptable in the marketplace based on the best science and public information available.”

But by being told the oils are “100% natural,” consumers can no longer make an informed decision as they are being misled.

Which reminds me of a great quote from Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser: “If they have to put the word ‘natural’ on a box to convince you, it probably isn’t.”