Judge Rules General Mills Can Label Nature Valley Granola Bars “Natural”

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.


[1] BakeryAndSnacks

[2] Food Business News

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Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Found to Contain Traces of Glyphosate

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) announced July 25, 2017 that it had discovered traces of the RoundUp chemical glyphosate in 10 of 11 samples of Ben & Jerry’s ice creams. The levels were reportedly far below the limit set by the EPA. [1]

The discovery is a bit of an embarrassment to the ice-cream maker because it has billed itself as a non-GMO company since 2014. Thankfully, the levels found were quite low. [2]

In reality, that’s only sort of true. On its website, Ben & Jerry’s says it based its non-GMO standard on the “mandatory declaration requirements of European regulations and the GMO labeling law passed in [their] home state of Vermont.” Based on this standard, the company’s milk and egg suppliers may still use conventional (GMO) animal feeds. [1]

Rob Michalak, global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s says the environmentally-conscience company is working to ensure that all the ingredients in its supply chain come from non-GMO sources. None of its plant-based ingredients come from corn, soy, or other known genetically-modified crops. The company is also reportedly teasing out a cost-effective way for the dairy farms that supply its milk to use non-GMO feed.

Michalak said:

“We’re working to transition away from GMO, as far away as we can get. But then these tests come along, and we need to better understand where the glyphosate they’re finding is coming from. Maybe it’s from something that’s not even in our supply chain, and so we’re missing it.”

It’s possible that add-ins to the ice cream, such as peanut butter or cookie dough, are sprayed with glyphosate and may be the culprits. [3]

Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie showed the highest levels of glyphosate, with 1.74 parts per billion, and glyphosate’s byproduct aminomethylphosphonic acid registering 0.91 parts per billion.

To put things into perspective, a 75-pound child would need to eat 145,000 8-ounce servings each day of the ice cream to hit the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. An adult would have to eat 290,000 servings, said John Fagan, the chief executive of the Health Research Institute Laboratories, which did the testing for the Organic Consumers Association.

But despite the extremely low levels of glyphosate, the OCA thinks that any presence of glyphosate is misleading to buyers. [2]

The group said in a post on its website:

“It’s time for Ben & Jerry’s to announce it will immediately begin transitioning to 100 percent organic. Otherwise conscious consumers have no choice but to launch a national and, if necessary, international protest campaign and boycott.”

Furthermore, according to OCA, reports published by Regeneration Vermont reveal that Ben & Jerry’s suppliers—and Vermont and U.S. (non-organic) dairy farmers in general – “have gone backwards, rather than forward over the past 15 years in terms of environment sustainability, food safety, and nutrition and greenhouse gas pollution.”

OCA also says Ben & Jerry’s needs to stop labeling its ice cream as “natural.”

Promising years ago to go GMO-free by 2014, Ben & Jerry’s has made strides over the years to make its ice cream more natural, including dropping milk made with Monsanto’s RBST growth hormones. Perhaps the company doesn’t deserve this much heat at this point in time.


[1] The New York Times

[2] Fox Business

[3] Business Insider

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