- Post currently faces three class action lawsuits that accuse the company of false, deceptive and misleading advertising due to Post's use of the term "natural" to describe its Shredded Wheat cereal.
- Plaintiffs took issue with Post's use of the phrases "100% Natural Whole Grain Wheat" and a "Natural Source of Fiber" because the cereal's wheat ingredient comes from a crop that farmers treat with a synthetic herbicide.
- These and many other similar lawsuits filed over the term "natural" await a final decision on a definition of the term from the FDA.
The term "natural" has been a focal point of litigation in recent years as consumers and public health advocates demand simple, clean ingredients lists and transparency in marketing claims, ingredients and processing. Manufacturers ranging from Dole to General Mills have faced these lawsuits, which have sometimes ended in settlements.
Any path to a definition for "natural" is likely to come with a struggle between the industry and consumers and public health advocates. The term "organic" saw a 10-year battle play out as the USDA sought to establish a finalized definition, and gluten-free received its official definition in 2013. But with the increasing amount of litigation surrounding "natural," the FDA may be more keen to settle the issue so the courts can move forward with these lawsuits. Judges overseeing many of these cases have stayed them pending the FDA's decision.
Last November, the FDA opened a comment period to collect suggestions for what the term "natural" should mean from a scientific standpoint. Artificial ingredients, GMOs and herbicides have all been up for debate as to whether their usage should prevent manufacturers from making a "natural" claim about that product. The FDA closed the comment period in May but has yet to make any further announcement on future guidance for the term.
One option for manufacturers is to abandon the term altogether until the FDA sets a final definition as a way to avoid potential misinterpretation. Manufacturers are already doing this, with 22.1% of foods and 34% of beverages marketed as "natural" in 2013, compared to 30.4% and 45.5% respectively three years prior.