It's Time To Define What's Meant By 'Natural'

One thing that’s clear about the growing dust-up over Kashi’s use of the work “natural” in its labeling is that marketers are being held to a higher standard of clarity than before. It’s not just consumer watchdogs issuing press releases and hoping they’ll garner a few paragraphs in the mainstream media. Consumers are taking to the digital ramparts and stories such as this are becoming larger than passing headlines in the 24-hour news cycle, as we most recently witnessed with the “pink slime” story.

“Kellogg is facing anger on social-media sites because of complaints that its popular Kashi brand of cold cereals doesn't live up to the company's ‘natural’ billing on ads and boxes,” reports Elizabeth Weise in USA Today. “The controversy went viral a week ago after a Rhode Island grocer tacked a note to one of his store shelves, telling customers he wouldn't sell the cereal because he found out the brand used genetically engineered, non-organic ingredients.”



Since then, a YouTube video has been placed at the top of the Kashi website and Facebook page. “We Hear You” says the text accompanying it. “Now hear directly from us about recent food news.”

“The information circulating is scientifically inaccurate and misleading because it was not based on actual testing of Kashi products but was instead general USDA data,” says a woman who identifies herself as “Keegan, a Kashi team member and nutritionist.” She continues: “We are confident that our products are free of substances that would cause a health risk to our consumers.” 

Social media, of course, invite pure and unadulterated rage. Here’s a comment posted on Kashi’s Facebook page yesterday in reaction to the news.

“Eff you, liars! How DARE you make me feed genetically altered food to my one-year-old daughter? I'm going to my local Whole Foods AS SOON AS IT OPENS TODAY to talk to them, and I'm not going to rest until all KELLOGGS products are banished from their shelves nationwide.”

The unadulterated vitriol come from both sides, we should point out: 

‘DIRTY HIPPIES !! You probably refuse to VACCINATE your children as well. Go smoke another JOINT and you won't remember eating kashi to satisfy your munches [sic].”

What’s missing from these incidents is the “he said/she said” aspect of traditional journalistic practice. 

Weise’s USA Today’s piece, for example, contains an accurate (if perhaps self-serving) observation that Kellogg “is not misleading people” from Barbara Haumann of the Organic Trade Association. “‘Consumers are totally confused,’ and don't understand that the only way to get organic food is to buy organic, she says.”

Huffington Post blogger Katherine Bindley amply quotes from both sides of the controversy, including the Kashi YouTube video and a reaction to it from a critic, the Cornucopia Institute.

“Mark Kastel, the nonprofit's co-director, told The Huffington Post he believes Kashi leaves consumers with the impression that no products were tested at all, despite the fact that -- while USDA data was used in evaluating the brand's agrochemicals -- an independent lab did conduct the GMO testing on a box of Kashi cereal pulled from store shelves,” Bindley writes.

"They manipulated the language [in the video]," Kastel tells her. "They did not make clear they were talking about us not testing chemicals: They said we never tested their products."

A class action lawsuit filed last year in a southern Californian district court against Kellogg and Kashi accused it of inappropriately marketing products as natural. The action got mentioned a bit in the trade press and on legal blogs, but was not a big story in the consumer press.

Riëtte van Laack reported in FDA|Law Blog, which is published by the legal firm Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C., that there is a “new twist” in this particular “natural” lawsuit.

“The federal regulations and policies referenced in the complaint include the National Organic Program’s (‘NOP’s’) regulatory definition of ‘synthetic,’ an inaccurate statement of FDA’s policy on ‘natural,’ USDA’s policy on ‘natural,’ and FDA’s regulatory definition of artificial flavor. Plaintiffs further allege that the products in question do not conform to Kashi’s own definition of ‘natural,’ which states: Natural food is made without artificial ingredients like colors, flavors or preservatives and is minimally processed….”

Philip and Gayle Tauber founded Kashi, which was purchased by Kellogg in 2000, in California in 1984.

"Kashi was founded as a nutritional/functional food in that the grains and seeds are a protein source," Philip Tauber toldSupermarket News’ Barbara Murray at the time. "In the 80s, we were a vegetarian-food company. By the late 80s we were a grain-based specialty-food producer, and by the mid-90s, chiefly a gourmet specialty cereal maker. In the last four to five years, we've been a diet cereal. All the different cereals are made with seven grains and sesame." 

And now it unwittingly finds itself at the center of a controversy that it is in everyone’s best interest to clear up with straight talk about what is meant by the use of words such as “natural,” and what is not.

3 comments about "It's Time To Define What's Meant By 'Natural'".
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  1. Alex Edwards from health & fitness, April 30, 2012 at 10:44 a.m.

    Diet products, simple weight loss diet product available in the market might be including appetite suppressants, fat blockers, fat burners, stimulants, carb blockers, or a number of chemicals or herbs that can produce bad effect on the human body. Though all of these weight loss products declare themselves to be hundred present safe as they contain only natural herbs as ingredients. Although these kinds of herbal products shows a quick action and are considered as a safer and easier alternative to vigorous workout sessions.
    While considering any weight loss product as part of anyone’s weight loss regime he should always remember that even with the help of these miracle herbal diets, body’s natural tendency towards weight loss will be stimulated only with the increase in physical activity and a taking low calorie diet. If any herbal weight loss product claims that the consumer will not have to make a change in the eating habits, that means the product might be constituted of certain ingredients that puts an effect on the digestive process, which is not good for the body in a long run. Thus, the selection of a quality Herbal Weight Loss Product should be done with a great care.
    Herbalife products are effective in enhancing the weight loss process in a natural manner and also provides healthy nutrients to the body as part of a healthy diet. Thus, while you are loosing weight, you are actually regaining good health, which reflects as the facial glow, making you attractive then What else an overweight individual would be aspiring for, when he is getting a dual benefit by the use of it? In addition to this, these products from Herbalife are authentically safe for digestive system, and the entire body as well

  2. Mike Keaton from NPA, April 30, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.

    The Natural Products Association Natural Seal is the first and only natural certification in the U.S. As a nonprofit association representing the natural products industry, NPA developed the Natural Seal in 2008 to certify natural personal care products. In 2010, we launched a Natural Seal certifying home care products. Among other requirements, personal care and home care products with the Natural Seal are at least 95 percent natural—excluding water. NPA-certified products use natural ingredients from a source found in nature, avoid ingredients with health risks, don’t use animal testing, and emphasize the use of biodegradable or recycled material in the packaging. NPA requires 100-percent natural fragrances and colorants for products with the Natural Seal, and products must list all ingredients on the package label. NPA-certified products appear in more than 85,000 stores nationwide, ranging from independent retailers to some of the largest chains in the country. More than 800 products and ingredients have been certified natural. NPA is currently working to develop a Natural Seal for food products as well. You can find out more at

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 30, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.

    Hate kills. A portion of cereal won't. Read the package people. Don't buy it. However, the only way there will be standard definitions is if the government makes the rules and they are enforced. Kashi can still make cereal anyway they want as well as any food manufacturer.

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