- Nonprofits have filed a lawsuit against General Mills saying the company misled the public with a "natural" claim made on its Nature Valley granola bars.
- The granola bars' label reads, "Made with 100% natural whole grain oats," but according to the lawsuit, the product contains glyphosate, a chemical found in herbicides like Roundup.
- The glyphosate comes from the farming and production of oats, the product's major ingredient.
In this case, farmers use glyphosate to produce the oats rather than General Mills labeling glyphosate as an ingredient on the product's packaging. A 2014 Consumer Reports survey found that about two-thirds of consumers believe products labeled "natural" are produced without pesticides, genetically-modified organisms, hormones or artificial ingredients. But because the FDA currently has no official regulations for the term "natural," that may not always be true for every product with a "natural" label.
Such mislabeling cases involving the "natural" term may push the FDA to hasten its process of developing an official definition and labeling guidance. The agency opened the floor to comments on the potential definition last November and extended the comment period through May. Little has been heard since, but if more lawsuits regarding the term "natural" continue, it could bring guidance sooner than later.
Concerns are mounting over glyphosate in the food supply. The World Health Organization announced in March 2015 that glyphosate can probably be linked to cancer. Last September, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced its intention to label glyphosate as "known to cause cancer" and classify the chemical as carcinogenic under Proposition 65. In February, the FDA said it would eventually begin testing for glyphosate in the food supply.
These lawsuits demonstrate the level of transparency consumers are demanding from food and beverage manufacturers, as they want to know more about a product's ingredients, where they come from and how they're processed. The lawsuits also prove how divisive a term like "natural" can be among companies, consumers and public health advocates. This may cause manufacturers to avoid using the term on product labels until the FDA finalizes a definition.
This isn't the first time lawsuits have targeted General Mills and its Nature Valley brand over "natural" claims. In 2014, General Mills settled a two-year lawsuit the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed that claimed the company misled consumers by labeling the product as "natural" while it contained high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin.