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Suit Over '100% Natural' Label On Nature Valley Granola Bars Settled

This article is more than 4 years old.

The non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest has made me a hopeless cynic about the glowing verbiage on food packaging. Among the center's other work, it acts as a sort of truth squad for food claims, outing many "good for you" labels and ads for the shameless distortions that they are.

"I guess I knew that was too good to be true," is my usual reaction when I find out that yet another hyper-palatable "healthy" snack or entree is actually packed with sugar or fat or salt.

Now, the center reports the settlement of a suit it brought against General Mills for calling Nature Valley granola bars and other products "100% Natural" even though they contained highly processed sweeteners. (Wait, you mean "high-fructose corn syrup" doesn't just count as corn?) From it's press release:

WASHINGTON—A settlement agreement announced today prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars, crispy squares, and trail mix bars are "100% Natural" if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. The agreement, which is effective immediately and applies to labeling and marketing for 30 Nature Valley products, settles a 2012 lawsuit brought on behalf of consumers by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and two law firms.

CSPI privately raised its concern with General Mills over its "100% Natural" claims as early as 2005. The company began phasing out its use of high-fructose corn syrup in some products, but at the time of CSPI's lawsuit was still using high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. While those ingredients are derived from corn, they are produced by treating corn starch with acids, enzymes, or both before being refined into a substance that does not occur in nature.

The center notes that a bill introduced in Congress in 2013 "would prohibit the use of the word 'natural' on a food that includes any synthesized ingredient, or any ingredient that has undergone chemical changes such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, maltodextrin, chemically modified food starch, or alkalized cocoa."

The Wall Street Journal reports that some Nature Valley packaging had apparently already been changed.

It says a "spokeswoman for General Mills said the changes were made in 2012 and preceded the lawsuits, which she said the company fought because the suits sought damages. She said General Mills agreed to the settlement to avoid further litigation, and has no plans to change its current labels."

The Journal also reports that lawsuits over "natural" labeling have been proliferating of late, with more than 100 filed in recent years.

Consumers have targeted PepsiCo Inc., Campbell Soup Co. , Ben & Jerry’s, Kashi, Skinnygirl and dozens of other food and drink brands.

Several companies have quietly removed “natural” claims from the juice, ice cream, potato chips and other foods they make. Campbell eliminated the claim from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and Pepsi got rid of the phrasing on its Naked juice bottle.

Wait, you mean even those maximally virtuous-seeming "Naked" juices are not natural? Sigh. A commenter on The Wall Street Journal story writes:

The sad truth is that if you are buying something in a wrapper, box, can or any sealed container, it almost certainly is adulterated with either sugar, hydrogenated oil, preservatives, or all of these, not to mention excess salt, and "additives."

Go to your friendly neighborhood chain food market and take a magnifying glass. Read the labels on "breakfast cereal". Of the fifty brands there, chances are that all fifty contain added sugar/corn syrup, or concentrated fruit juice for sweetening. Do the same with "juices" and discover there MAY be ONE or TWO actual juices there, everything else is adulterated and soaked in corn syrup. Basically if it's in a container, it's semi junk or junk food.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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