Kashi accused of misleading consumers with ‘natural’ claims

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin, Kashi

The Kellogg Company and its subsidiary Kashi have been accused of inappropriately marketing products as natural, according to a class action lawsuit filed in a southern Californian district court.

Plaintiff Michael Bates, on behalf of a national class of consumers who have purchased Kashi products, claims that Kashi products have been labeled as ‘all-natural’ and/or containing ‘nothing artificial’ since at least 1999, but that many of the ingredients used in these products are synthetic or unnaturally processed.

In particular, the lawsuit cites the example of Kashi’s GoLean Shakes, saying they are composed “almost entirely of synthetic and unnaturally processed ingredients”, ​listing sodium molybdate, phytonadione and sodium selenite, and “other substances that have been declared to be synthetic substances by federal regulations.”

In an emailed statement, senior nutritionist and natural lifestyle expert at Kashi Jeff Johnson said the company stands by its claims.

He said: “Kashi provides comprehensive information about our foods to enable people to make well-informed choices. We stand behind our advertising and labeling practices.”

The suit claims that Kashi products aim to take advantage of a booming market for all-natural foods and beverages – a market that has continued to grow, even as shoppers’ interest in ‘minus’ claims (such as low-fat) and ‘plus’ claims (such as added functional ingredients) has decreased, according to Mintel. The market research organization’s Global New Products Database shows that the percentage of global product launches carrying a ‘natural’ claim – including no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or additives – has increased from 26 percent of new launches in 2005 to over a third in 2009.

This is not the first time that a food company has been the subject of a class action suit over the use of the term ‘natural’. In June, two class action lawsuits were filed​ against ConAgra for marketing its Wesson range of cooking oils as ‘100% natural’ and ‘pure’ although they contain genetically modified ingredients. That case is ongoing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the labeling of most packaged food products, currently has no definition for the term ‘natural’, but it has said that a product is not natural if it contains synthetic or artificial ingredients.

The precise regulatory meaning of the word natural is still open to interpretation.

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"natural" has no regulatory definition

Posted by Carolyn Merkel,

Natural means nothing. To comment to Gayle however, I would say that "natural" is defined by "no chemical bonds are made or broken in this material" AND "the material may be found in nature". There is of course a big enough hole to drive a truck through with that definition but the debate shows why FDA doesn't define it. Is a cooked steak not "natural" (because of the chemical reactions from cooking) while a raw steak is?

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Posted by Caroline Scott-Thomas,

@Joshua Sims

Many thanks for your comment. For clarification, the USDA is indeed responsible for the National Organic Program, but the FDA does regulate other food labeling issues, and this one falls under its authority.

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Unnaturally Processed Ingredients vs. Synthetic Ingredients?

Posted by Gayle,

I don't understand the term "unnaturally processed ingredients", especially when it's used to differentiate from the word synthetic*. For ex calcium is a mineral that naturally comes from plants and rocks. What would be naturally processed calcium compared to unnaturally processed calcium? (*in this scenario may we define synthetic as "not of natural origin" instead of defining it as "chemically derived"-- since chem derived would include a syrup made by adding natural water (H2O) to natural cane sugar (C6H12O6)--, and define "all natural" -as it relates to the ingredients here- as found in the periodic table of natural elements or a chemical compound from the table of elements -- such as H2O (water)-- and not those elements derived from collisions of atoms in a superconductor, or similar process - no nano-splicing or integrating of atoms/genes that otherwise could not reasonably go together via the usual processes of the average kitchen)

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