The words “organic” and “natural” have been at the center of much controversy in the food world for years. Is it or isn’t it? Is the label misleading? These are the questions consumers ask themselves every time they scan the grocery store shelves. Fortunately, the FDA and several watchdog nonprofit organizations are trying to make sure each brand stays honest and transparent by labeling its foods accurately, but sometimes there are so-called loopholes.
Take this case for example: General Mills (maker of Nature Valley granola bars) was recently sued by nonprofit organizations (the Organic Consumers Association, Moms Across America and Beyond Pesticides) that claim the food giant is mislabeling its granola bars with the words “100% natural whole grain oats” because one group alleges the bars contain trace levels of a chemical found in herbicides called glyphosate. The scary part? This chemical was deemed “probably carcinogenic to humans” and “probably linked to cancer” by the World Health Organization just last year.
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The “loophole” of sorts here is that in 2014, Nature Valley bars were also called into question for their labeling, which at the time, contained the “100% natural” tagline. A class-action lawsuit argued that the bars contained high fructose corn syrup and other processed ingredients, and therefore should not be advertised as such. The brand’s response was to change the verbiage from “100% natural” to “100% natural whole grain oats.” This decision was questioned.
“I think companies who manufacture packaged foods run into the conflict when labelling ‘natural,’” says celebrity nutritionist Paula Simpson. “This type of claim is deceiving for the consumer at first glance, but if we become more label savvy (as seen in this case), we learn that there can be hidden artificial ingredients as well. For packaged foods such as granola bars, preservatives and chemicals can be added to extend product shelf life and flavor. When purchasing packaged foods, I always encourage my clients to read the labels. You can learn a lot by reading the fine print.”
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