If a food product contains small amounts of glyphosate (an herbicide chemical), can it still be considered “100% natural?” Fed-up consumers are saying no to false advertising, and now multiple lawsuits have been filed against Nature Valley for exactly that.

The company is facing four lawsuits, including three federal class actions filed in District Courts in New York, California, and Minnesota, along with a civil case brought in a D.C. Superior Court on behalf of three non-profit groups. [1]

Nature Valley: A Little History

General Mills, the company that owns Nature Valley, has been down the litigation path over deceptive labeling before.

In 2014, the company settled a class-action lawsuit and agreed to drop its “100% natural” label on Nature Valley granola bars if they contained high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, or various other highly processed ingredients. [2]

For a while, the claim was missing from boxes of the granola bars, but it has since reappeared on many Nature Valley products, just in different forms.

For example, the packaging for the Sweet & Salty Nut Granola Bars states that the snacks are “made with 100% natural whole grain oats.”

The plaintiffs in the most recent cases say that claim is deceptive.

Source: Bloomberg

Glyphosate as a Snack

The lawsuits all claim that General Mills is deceiving consumers because of those few, seemingly innocent words, but why?

The granola bars in question contain glyphosate. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Glyphosate is the main ingredient in the infamous Monsanto herbicide, Roundup. The granola bars contain very small amounts of the chemical – about 0.45 parts per million (ppm) – but here’s the thing: glyphosate is everywhere.

Glyphosate is a possible human carcinogen (although a lot of scientists and government agencies will try to tell you otherwise.

Consumerist writes:

“A recent report by the World Health Organization and the United Nations found that while glyphosate isn’t good for you, it’s not likely going to be toxic at “anticipated dietary exposures.” So perhaps if you ate a truckload of granola bars every day, maybe that would hurt you… but no one is doing that.” [1]

They’re right – nobody eats truckloads of granola bars every day. But it’s in plenty of other things – and in the air – and has shown up in breast milk, several varieties of California wines, and even beer. Who knows what else contains glyphosate that hasn’t been tested yet?

The Lawsuits

The D.C. complaint states:

“By deceiving consumers about the nature, quality, and/or ingredients of its Nature Valley products, General Mills is able to sell a greater volume of the Products, to charge higher prices for the Products, and to take away market share from competing products, thereby increasing its own sales and profits.” [1]

The lawsuits don’t call into question whether the residual levels of glyphosate found in the granola bars – which fall well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) limit of 30 ppm – are safe. Rather, the plaintiffs allege that General Mills is using the “natural” label to trick unwitting customers into paying more for a product that may not be what it advertises.

Michele Simon, a public health attorney who advises natural food companies and publishes research on food industry marketing tactics, said:

“Every lawyer on the defense side I’ve been in touch with is clearly advising their clients to avoid using this word.” [3]

Ted C. Craig, a class-action defense attorney specializing in false advertising and mislabeling cases, added another piece of advice:

“My advice is ‘know what’s in your products,’ because the risk of not knowing is higher now than ever before.”

The goal of the consumers behind the lawsuits is to get Nature Valley to remove the “natural” label and refund customers. But the consumers’ lead attorney, Kim Richman, has set her sights on a much bigger and more important goal. She doesn’t just want the word removed, she wants “to clean up our food system.”

Sources:

[1] Consumerist

[2] Fox News

[3] Bloomberg

Bloomberg


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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.