The non-profit Cornucopia Institute has accused Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and Whole Foods of abusive marketing practices, saying the companies label cereals as natural even though the foods contain “toxic agrichemicals” and genetically modified organisms.
In a report, Cereal Crimes: How “Natural” Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label (pdf), Cornucopia says that no government agency or certification group has defined what foods companies may label as “natural.” In contrast, to display the USDA’s “certified organic” label, foods must be produced without the use of petrochemical-based fertilizers, sewage sludge, synthetic toxic pesticides and genetically modified crops, Cornucopia says.
The report charges that agribusinesses are trying to create the “illusion of equivalence” between the natural and organic labels, to intentionally mislead customers. This marketing move takes advantage of customer confusion, the report says, because many consumers do not understand the difference between the two terms.
In a 2010 poll by the Hartman Group, a majority of respondents mistakenly said the term “natural” implied “absence of pesticides,”“absence of herbicides,” and “absence of genetically modified foods.” In surveys by the Shelton Group and Context Marketing, consumers repeatedly said they valued the term “natural” over that of “organic.”
The Cornucopia report also says that some companies built customer loyalty as organic brands, but later switched to non-organic ingredients and called themselves “natural” instead.
Cornucopia says “natural” products commonly use organophosphate pesticides, which it says have been proven harmful to humans.
And it says that “natural” cereals from brands including Kashi (Kellogg’s), Mother’s (PepsiCo), Nutritious Living, Barbara’s Bakery (Weetabix), and 365 (Whole Foods Market) contain at least 28 percent genetically-modified ingredients. Cornucopia said many of these companies present their products as “non-GMO.”
The non-profit also published a scorecard of breakfast cereals and granola brands, which it said would help consumers make informed grocery purchases.