A California federal judge has ruled that General Mills may continue to label its Nature Valley granola bars as “natural,” despite tests which showed they contained traces of the chemical glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp and a multitude of other weedkillers. [1]

Judge Michael Davis dismissed a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit consumer groups Organic Consumers Association, Moms Across America, and Beyond Pesticides, which alleged General Mills was misleading buyers by claiming the granola bars were “Made with 100% natural whole grain oats.”

The groups said third-party laboratory testing detected 0.45 parts per million (ppm) of glyphosate in the granola bars, and believed oats were the culprit.

The case was thrown out by Davis last week, who noted in the dismissal order that the amount of glyphosate was permissible under law, even for certified organic foods.

The EPA’s tolerance level for cereal grains is 30 ppm, and food labeled “organic” can contain chemical pesticide residue of less than 5% of that amount.

Davis also said that even if the oats contain trace amounts of glyphosate, the groups had not alleged that the oats, themselves, were not natural.

He wrote:

“The packaging does not state that the product. as a whole, is ‘100% natural’.”

He added:

“It is implausible that a reasonable consumer would believe that a product labeled as having one ingredient — oats — that is ‘100% Natural’ could not contain a trace amount of glyphosate that is far below the amount permitted for organic products.

There is no dispute that the products were made with whole grain oats that, themselves, are ‘100% Natural’. Even if the glyphosate traces are present on the oats, there is no allegation that the oats, themselves, are not natural. The packaging does not state that the product, as a whole, is ‘100% Natural.’

It is not plausible that a representation that one ingredient in a product — in this case, oats — is ‘100% Natural’ means that the product as a whole does not contain traces of synthetic ingredients. Plaintiffs cannot claim a breach or misrepresentation based on a warranty that defendant never gave.” [2]

What is “Natural” Anyway?

In the fall of 2015, the FDA opened a public comment period for people to share their thoughts on what the word “natural” means, as it pertains to food products, because there is no set definition. Food companies commonly toss terms around like “natural,” “all-natural,” and “made with natural ingredients” but make no effort to specify what they mean.

General Mills has had legal problems pertaining to its Nature Valley bars in the past, including in 2014, when, as part of a settlement, it was required to remove the label “100% Natural” from more than 20 of its products because the bars contained high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and other synthetically-produced ingredients.

Other companies have faced similar legal action over claims that their products are natural, including Kellogg’s Kashi brand, and PepsiCo’s Naked Juices.

Sources:

[1] BakeryAndSnacks

[2] Food Business News


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Post written byJulie Fidler:
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.