When Natural Isn’t So Natural: Food Labeling Deception

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Just because it’s on the shelf of your favorite healthy grocery store doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  I read a detailed report called Cereal Crimes: How “Natural” Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label – A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle, from the Cornucopia Institute that illustrates how we’ve been duped! And to add to the injury many cereals, like the Peace Cereal® brand, which used to be organic, are now labeling their cereals as “natural” after converting to using conventional grain grown with toxic pesticides. Many cereals labeled “natural” are using conventionally grown grains and/or genetically modified organisms or GMOs prolific in grains like corn, soy, wheat or oats etc. Many of these brands are made (although it is not identified on their boxes) by big corporate food producers such as Kraft Foods (Back to Nature), Pepsico (Mother’s) and Kellogg’s (Bear Naked /Kashi).

This video helps illustrate the study

Look for the USDA organic certification seal. While the organic classification is less then perfect and needs our attention, at least you can trust that it has followed specific guidelines.  As for “natural” labeling, there are no regulations. This goes for all foods labeled “natural” like chicken, milk, beef, yogurt etc.

Ironically many so called “natural” products are often more expensive then the certified organic products.

From the Cornucopia Institutes Cereal Crimes study: Granola price comparison (in order of price from least to most expensive)18 brand corporate owner organic “natural” or conventional claim? Price per ounce:

green = organic; orange = conventional

365® Organic Whole Foods Market Organic Organic $0.26
Cascadian Farm® General Mills Organic Organic $0.29
Back to Nature® Kraft Foods/Philip Morris Conventional “100% Natural” $0.30
New England Naturals® Independent company Organic Organic $0.31
Whole Foods Bulk Whole Foods Market Conventional No claim $0.31
Grandy Oats® Independent company Organic Organic $0.38
Nature’s Path® Independent company Organic Organic $0.39
Boxford Bakehouse® Independent company Conventional No claim $0.42
Yogi® Hearthside Food Solutions Conventional “All Natural” $0.48
Ambrosial® Independent company Organic Organic $0.50
Bear Naked® Kellogg Company Conventional “100% Pure and Natural” $0.50
Galaxy® Independent company Conventional “All Natural” $0.50
Udi’s® Independent company Conventional “Natural” $0.50
Vermont Maple® Independent company Conventional “All Natural” $0.50
Vermont Bakeshop® Independent company Conventional No claim $0.54
Lizi’s® Independent company (UK) Conventional “100% Natural” $0.57
Kaia Foods® Independent company Organic Organic $0.75
Two Moms in the Raw® Independent company Organic Organic $1.1


I also found this interview on NPR with nutritionist Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat to be informative.  She reminds us that across the board, watch out for other claims like: farm fresh, farm raised, healthy, or 100% natural.

One of my personal pet peeves is that something labeled “natural flavor” only means that something has to taste natural, it doesn’t actually have to be natural.

One simple rule is if there are a lot of ingredients on the label, it’s probably not very natural.

So, get your glasses out and check those labels.

About the author / 

green diva lisa

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