Another settlement helps curtail bogus ‘natural’ claims – but a few still remain

Posted by
December 2, 2014

When you read the ingredients it doesn't sound so

When you read the ingredients it doesn’t sound so “natural” after all.

For a long time the word “natural” was perhaps the most overhyped and ambiguous term to be used by the food industry. But it looks like that may be changing, despite the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to give it a clear-cut definition.

The latest indication of that is the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest against General Mills for misusing the term in describing its Nature Valley Granola Bars, Crispy Squares and Trail Mix Bars as “100 percent natural.” The company has now agreed to refrain from such terminology if those products contain such highly processed ingredients as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup and dextrose monohydrate.

The settlement is one CSPI believes will help “nudge” the marketplace away from such ambiguous or shaky claims.  And, in fact, the strategy may be working, as indicated by a survey of our local supermarket where most uses of “natural” now seem to be limited to products that list no unnatural-sounding ingredients.

But there are still a few that might be regarded as misleading, as we noted last May in a blog prompted by another such settlement, in which Kellogg’s agreed to stop using such phrases as “all natural” and “nothing artificial” on various products in its Kashi and Bear Naked lines.

One is Minute Maid Premium fruit drinks, which has continued to display the words “100% Natural” on its cartons with the word “flavors” in smaller letters underneath. That might easily lead a customer to assume that it describes the entire product, when these drinks contain the very unnatural laboratory sweetener high fructose corn syrup.

But we did find one that might be considered a far more flagrant example of the misuse of “natural” – or to be more specific, “naturals.” That would be Del Monte Quality “fruit naturals” – the ones with no sugar added, like the red grapefruit variety “in artificially sweetened water.” According to the ingredients list, those synthetic sweeteners include both sucralose and acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K), an insufficiently tested substance containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen that can cause headaches, depression, mental confusion, nausea and vision problems, and affect the liver and kidneys.

As for sucralose (a.k.a.Splenda), as we reported here back in September, research done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that it had diabetes-promoting effects in human test subjects. It has also been linked to gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and been reported to cause migraines.

But while it may seem obvious that something with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup hardly qualifies as “natural,’ other uses of the word remain in a gray area – and it’s becoming more and more apparent that industry executives are becoming leery of them.

There is, however, one “all natural” claim being made on the label of a product available in your supermarket that you may find a bit shocking – along with another claim made on the same label.  We’ll be talking about that in an upcoming blog – stay tuned.