New Report Charges ‘Natural’ Cereal Industry Is Deceptive

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 13, 2011.  A new report released by The Cornucopia Institute reveals the deceptive marketing practices in the natural foods industry by some of the nation’s largest breakfast cereal manufacturers, demonstrating the importance of the organic label in order to avoid synthetic pesticides and genetically engineered food. In some cases, companies are selling products contaminated with toxic agrichemicals and Monsanto’s genetically modified organisms while promoting them as “natural.”

The new report, Cereal Crimes: How “Natural” Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label—A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle, explores in-depth this growing trend of marketing conventional foods as “natural” to lure health-conscious and eco-conscious consumers and their shopping dollars. As Beyond Pesticides has pointed out in previous Daily News entries and our fact sheet, “Making Sure Green Consumer Claims Are Truthful,” the report also acknowledges that there are no restrictions for foods labeled “natural.” Unlike the organic label, no government agency, certification group, or other independent entity defines the term “natural” on processed food packages or ensures that the claim has merit.

Analysis by Cornucopia of wholesale and retail cereal and granola prices reveals that “natural” products often are priced similarly or higher than equivalent organic product. This suggests that some companies are profiting from consumer confusion, in an attempt to cash in on the growing demand for organic food. Though the prices may be similar, however, there is a vast difference between organic and “natural” products from grain produced with the use of toxic pesticides. In some cases, companies charge high prices for “natural” products that even contain genetically engineered crops developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto.

The report also details how prominent agribusinesses are increasingly using various strategies to create the illusion of equivalence between the “natural” and organic labels to mislead consumers.

“Some companies that started out organic, and built brand loyalty as organic brands, have switched to non-organic ingredients and “natural” labeling,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at Cornucopia.

According to Cornucopia, one such brand, Peace Cereal® is an example of “bait-and-switch.” In 2008, the Peace Cereal® brand switched from organic to cheaper conventional ingredients, without lowering its prices, according to the report. Today, the cereal is sold in natural food stores and mainstream grocers at prices above many of their certified organic competitors that are using more expensive organic ingredients.

Unfortunately, this marketing scheme is nothing new. A report published last October found that 95% of consumer products in a study that claimed to be eco-friendly were guilty of greenwashing. Many supposedly green labels that include vague language such as “all-natural,” mean very little and contain no proof of environmental claims. Worse yet is that some companies place fake labels or seals on their packaging designed to imply that a products has a third party endorsement. For example, the “Earth Friendly Farm Friendly” label found on some dairy products actually encourages the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics to increase production. Sarah Lee has been accused of greenwashing for inviting consumers to “plot to save the earth” by purchasing their Earth Grains bread with their new Eco-Grain wheat. It turns out, however, that despite the major marketing campaign to push the products as environmentally friendly, the grains for the breads are produced with only a slight decrease in the amount of synthetic fertilizer used.

In contrast, products that display the USDA’s “certified organic” label are produced under a strict set of verified standards prohibiting the use of petrochemical-based fertilizers, sewage sludge, synthetic toxic pesticides, genetically modified crops, and other many common conventional agricultural and manufacturing inputs. Key to the organic label is a transparent and public process, overseen by stakeholds serving on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), that facilitiates public involvement in defining organic practices and allowable inputs. The only sure-fire way consumers can avoid the use of toxic pesticides is to buy organic and look for the USDA certification.

Unlike chemical-intensive agriculture and genetically engineered food, researchers continue to discover the environmental and health benefits of eating and growing organic food. There are numerous health benefits to eating organic, besides a reduction in pesticide exposure. According to research from the University of California, a ten-year study comparing organic tomatoes with standard produce finds that they have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids. A study out of the University of Texas finds organically grown fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals than their conventionally grown counterparts. A comprehensive review of 97 published studies comparing the nutritional quality of organic and conventional foods shows that organic plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) contain higher levels of eight of 11 nutrients studied, including significantly greater concentrations of the health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants.

For more information about why organic is the right choice see our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide.

Take Action: Join the fight to have genetically engineered foods labeled. This Saturday, October 16th is World Food Day. The Organic Consumers Association’s Millions Against Monsanto campaign is celebrating with more than 100 World Food Day events nationwide, making it the biggest single day of action for strict label laws for genetically engineered food in U.S. history. To find an event near you or for more information, click here.

Source: The Cornucopia Institute Press Release, beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.