General Mills is being sued for misleading use of the term “natural” on packages of Nature Valley granola bars, which have been shown to contain residues of the toxic herbicide glyphosate (Roundup).
The lawsuit, filed by Moms Across America, Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association, alleges that consumers expect products labeled “natural” to be free of synthetic toxins. Yet the granola bars in question bear a label that reads “Made with 100% NATURAL whole grain OATS.”
“As a mother, when I read “100% Natural” I would expect that to mean no synthetic or toxic chemicals at all,” said Zen Honeycutt, executive director of Moms Across America. “Glyphosate is a toxic chemical that the EPA recognizes as a ‘reproductive effector’ which ‘can cause liver and kidney damage’ and ‘digestive effects.’ It is unacceptable that Nature Valley granola bars contain any amount of this chemical.”
Glyphosate not ‘natural’
For years, consumer groups have criticized the FDA for failing to define a clear standard for what constitutes a “natural” food or ingredient. To date, the FDA has only stated that a “natural” claim must be “truthful and not misleading.” The only ingredients that the FDA has prohibited are artificial colors, artificial flavors and the vaguely defined catchall “synthetic substances” – a category that does not even include major industrially manufactured chemicals such as high fructose corn syrup!
The FDA also prohibits the use of the term on ingredients other than “natural flavors” (which are themselves isolated chemicals extracted in labs).
Yet, according to a 2015 survey by Consumer Reports, 66 percent of consumers seek out products labeled “natural” because they believe these foods to be produced without pesticides (including herbicides), hormones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or artificial ingredients of any kind.
“Food grown with dangerous pesticides like glyphosate isn’t natural,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association. “Consumers understand this. That’s why sales of natural products are booming. Unfortunately, companies’ misleading claims trick consumers into buying just what they’re trying to avoid. This has to be stopped.”
A number of recent lawsuits have caused food companies to move away from the “natural” label, replacing it with terms such as “honest” and simple.” For example, General Mills itself agreed in a 2014 lawsuit settlement to stop using the term “100 percent natural” for Nature Valley granola bars that contain any of several highly processed ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup or maltodextrin.
Yet now the company has found a way around that agreement, labeling the oats – rather than the bars – as “100 percent natural.”
Levels high enough to poison kidneys, liver
The lawsuit charges that the oats used in Nature Valley granola bars cannot be considered 100 percent natural, because tests have shown that they contain residues from a toxic synthetic chemical, glyphosate. It also accuses General Mills of misleading consumers about glyphosate’s harmful effects.
“Glyphosate cannot be considered ‘natural’ because it is a toxic, synthetic herbicide,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “Identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a carcinogen, it should not be allowed for use in food production, and certainly not in food with a label that suggests to consumers that the major ingredient – oats – is 100% natural.”
Glyphosate is one of world’s top selling herbicides. Its use has ballooned due to the widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant GMOs, but it is also used on non-GMO crops, such as oats. Other than buying organic produce, one of the only ways to avoid glyphosate is to grow your own food at home.
Although the glyphosate levels found in the granola bars are “only” 0.45 parts per billion (ppb), well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) safe exposure threshold, studies have found that concentrations as low as 0.1 ppb can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Glyphosate has also been linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and to a wide range of other problems, including birth defects.
In a recent letter to the EPA, a group of leading scientists warmed that glyphosate also contributes to antibiotic resistance and causes devastation to soil and wildlife health.
Sources for this article include: