By Dr. Mercola
A simple sign on a grocery store shelf has gone viral, causing a storm of outrage among consumers who feel they’ve been misled by cereal maker Kellogg’s claims about its Kashi cereals. A Rhode Island grocer posted a note on the shelf where Kashi was supposed to be, saying he’d learned it wasn’t 100 percent natural after all, and therefore wasn’t carrying it anymore.
It turns out the soy in Kashi cereals comes from genetically modified Roundup-ready soybeans, which have a gene inserted in them that allows the crop to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the weed killer.
USA Today reported that consumers felt duped into believing that Kashi was all-natural when it’s not1. Their complaints were initially brushed off by Kashi general Manager David DeSouza, who told USA Today that since the FDA doesn’t regulate the term “natural,” the cereal maker has done nothing wrong by defining “natural” as minimally-processed with no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or sweeteners.
Were You Duped by Kashi’s Wholesome Brand Identity?
People generally tend to believe that the word “natural” refers to foods grown “in a natural way,” which really amounts to organic farming methods, or close to it; sans harsh chemicals, and most definitely not something that has been genetically engineered. Unfortunately, that’s not what the “natural” label represents at all. In fact, the “natural” label is unregulated, and companies can define it as they please.
But most food manufacturers are well aware of this general misperception of what the label means, and frequently misuse it to lure health conscious consumers into spending more. This is known as “green-washing” and it certainly applies in this case.
Adding insult to injury, the company appears to have made a poor attempt to save face by further misleading consumers about the accuracy of the information that led the Rhode Island grocer to not carry the Kashi brand anymore.
The Cornucopia Institute released a report, Cereal Crimes, back in November of last year2, which details the presence of genetically engineered grains in a number of leading “natural” cereal brands, including Kellogg’s Kashi brand. Shockingly, many of the products tested were found to contain high amounts of genetically engineered grains—some, including Kashi, containing 100 percent genetically engineered grains!
The report also mentions a class action lawsuit filed against Kellogg/Kashi on August 31, 2011, “for allegedly misleading consumers with its “natural” claims. One Kashi® product in particular, GoLean® Shakes, is composed almost entirely of synthetic and unnaturally processed ingredients, according to the plaintiff.”
The report contrasts these findings with tests of certified organic cereal products, which by law are not allowed to contain any genetically engineered ingredients or synthetic pesticides. While some were found to be mildly contaminated with genetically engineered ingredients, overall, the report highlights the fact that the ONLY way to ensure you’re not buying a genetically engineered product is to buy a product bearing the USDA 100% Organic label.
When Greenwashing Attempts Finally Backfire…
Once the grocer’s sign went viral and angry consumers began overloading the Kashi telephone lines, the company switched to a recorded message stating they were temporarily unable to accept calls. Then, according to an April 26 report by Cornucopia Institute3:
“When the company again began accepting calls, a Kashi consumer affairs employee, Rick Duran, told a Cornucopia staff member that “no actual testing” of their cereal products had been performed. This mimicked the analysis also offered in a response by the company in an online video posted that same afternoon on the Kashi Facebook page. The video spokesperson called Cornucopia’s information “scientifically inaccurate and misleading because it was not based on actual testing of Kashi products.”
“This characterization of our work by Kashi is blatantly false,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director. “We purchased a readily available box of Kashi’s GoLean® cereal from a Whole Foods store. We then sent a sample to an accredited national lab for testing, finding that the soy in the natural cereal was 100% GMO.”
The Kashi video also suggested, disingenuously, that any genetically engineered contamination in their food was from incidental sources rather than crops intentionally grown from GMO seed. While acknowledging that over 80% of the soybeans grown in North America are GMO, they explain that, “practices in agricultural storage, handling, and shipping, have lead to an environment where GMOs are not sufficiently controlled.”
“This is classic public relations spin and crisis communications work, where corporations use misinformation to try to cover their tracks,” said Rebekah Wilce, of the Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch, which helps expose corporate PR tactics…”
Three days later, the USA Today reported4:
“… Kellogg got itself into trouble by “not being entirely transparent,” says Roger Nyhus, president of Nyhus Communications in Seattle. He sees a trend among some companies “of fudging language to allay consumer concerns and jump on the green bandwagon, and I think it’s starting to backfire.” … Kashi’s DeSouza says that by 2015, all new Kashi products will “contain at least 70 percent USDA organic certified ingredients.”
So, in a matter of days, Kashi ended up backpedaling as their initial attempt to discredit the Cornucopia Institute’s test results backfired, and now the company has agreed to ensure their products will, within the next three years, contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients. While this is probably not going to be enough for most health conscious consumers, Kashi’s pledge is at least a good demonstration of the power of consumer education, and that consumers ultimately have the power to influence even the largest of food companies. After all, they can only sell what you’re willing to buy!
“Natural” Label is Frequently Misused to Lure Health Conscious Consumers
The misuse of the term “natural” by companies who simply pay lip service to sustainability and the organic movement undermines companies that are truly sincere in their efforts to bring you eco-friendly, unadulterated, safe foods.
And companies like Kashi cannot rightfully claim ignorance about the impact the word “natural” has—marketing firm polls have shown that more people respond favorably to the “all-natural” label than the organic label! It’s a powerful word that conjures up wholesomeness in most people’s minds. Marketing terms such as “natural” are certainly not chosen willy-nilly. No, they’re selected based on what works and what sells. As illustrated by this market research summary by The Hartman Group5:
“Consumer understanding and shopping behavior of organic and natural foods and beverages continues to change and evolve. Today’s consumers are confused, yet continue to be engaged by the vast array of products, messages, symbols and labels they encounter when making decisions about what to eat or drink and where they shop.
… This study will identify the hierarchy among these attributes and point out differences by product category as well as deeper distinctions between “organic” and “natural” themselves. It will enable companies to go beyond the clutter of product call-outs to have a singular focus on what matters most to consumers thereby increasing brand loyalty and likelihood of purchase”
According to a 2010 Hartman Group poll, more than 60 percent of consumers erroneously believe that the “natural” label implies or suggests the absence of genetically engineered ingredients, so Kashi’s statement that there’s nothing wrong with using genetically engineered ingredients in their “natural” products is rather weak. Food companies know this misconception exists, and they actively prey on consumers’ assumptions. Fortunately, the Cornucopia Institute’s report has awakened many to this sad truth. As one now-former Kashi consumer stated on the company’s Facebook page:
“Yours is the only brand cereal I have bought for years. Not anymore! You are despicable. Everything you supposedly stand for is a lie.”
The Difference Between Natural and Organic
It’s important to understand that the “natural” label is not regulated and does not provide a guarantee of being free of genetically engineered ingredients or synthetic pesticides and additives. Currently, the ONLY label that can protect you against genetically engineered ingredients and other unsavory additives is the USDA 100% Organic label.
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) took effect October 21, 2002, and regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. The labeling requirements of the NOP apply to raw, fresh products and processed products that contain organic agricultural ingredients6. In order to qualify as organic, a product must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity.
Crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers7. Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones.
- Products labeled “USDA 100% organic” must contain only organically produced materials
- Products labeled simply “USDA organic” must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, whereas
- The label “made with organic ingredients” can contain anywhere between 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients
Organic products cannot be irradiated, are not allowed to contain preservatives or flavor enhancing chemicals, nor can they contain traces of heavy metals or other contaminants in excess of tolerances set by the FDA8. Additionally, the pesticide residue level cannot be higher than 5 percent of the maximum EPA pesticide tolerance9. For the complete National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances under the USDA organic label, see this link10. To learn more about organic foods and the findings detailed in the Cereal Crimes report, please listen to my interview with Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute.
Mom Stands Up to Monsanto and Wins Major Environmental Award
Genetically engineered foods do not just pose a health hazard for those consuming them. GE crops also threaten the health of the environment and those living in GE farming communities, due to the heavy use of pesticides required to grow these crops.
A woman in Argentina who was instrumental in getting the president of Argentina to investigate the connection between pesticide use and the incidence of cancer and other devastating illnesses and deaths in her town has been awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize—the world’s largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists. The Goldman recognizes unsung heroes who often take great personal risks to work to protect the world’s natural resources and human lives.
Thirteen years ago Sofia Gatica gave birth to a daughter who died three days later of kidney failure. Determined to learn what killed her child, she learned that the people in her working-class neighborhood, surrounded by genetically engineered soy fields and subjected to regular insecticide spraying, were plagued with unexplained health issues including high rates of neurological and respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infant mortality. Even though she faced an uphill battle and death threats, Gatica succeeded in getting a municipal ordinance passed prohibiting aerial spraying around her town. Argentina’s Supreme Court followed with a ruling that not only banned chemical spraying near populated areas, but ordered the government and soy producers to prove the chemicals are safe.
The Devastating Health Effects of Roundup
As of July 2013, Argentina will no longer allow the use of endulsofan, an off-patent organochlorine insecticide, and Gatica is currently involved with an effort to enact a nationwide ban on glyphosate as well. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, which is used on all genetically engineered Roundup-Ready crops, which have been genetically altered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the chemical.
Glyphosate is easily one of the world’s most overlooked poisons. Research published in 2010 showed that the chemical, which works by inhibiting an enzyme called EPSP synthase that is necessary for plants to grow, causes birth defects in frogs and chicken embryos at far lower levels than used in agricultural and garden applications11. The malformations primarily affected the:
- Midline and developing brain
- Spinal cord
The amount of glyphosate residue you can be exposed to through food is remarkably high, in terms of being close to the maximum residue limit (MRL) allowed. According to a report in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, the highest MRL for glyphosate in food and feed products in the EU is 20 mg/kg. Genetically engineered soybeans have been found to contain residue levels as high as 17 mg/kg, and malformations in frog and chicken embryos occurred at 2.03 mg/kg!12 That’s 10 times lower than the MRL. Other independent scientific research has also found that glyphosate has the potential to cause grave health damage, including a 2009 study that tested formulations of Roundup that were highly diluted (up to 100,000 times or more) on human cells, and even then the cells died within 24 hours.13