The Synthetic Use of Natural Branding

August 14, 2012  |  Class Actions

Several lawsuits have come to the forefront of public discussion over the deceptive advertising of “health” foods.  Images of farm-grown vegetables and fields of grain permeate the aisles of Costco, Wal-Mart and Target and big business food companies continue to employ the use of “natural” and “organic” marketing.  As nutritional experts increasingly emphasize the health benefits of consuming non-processed, preservative free, additive free foods, corporate capitalization of the natural food trend has created a diluting effect on the integrity of organic and natural food branding. 

The most recent case in a series of deceptive advertising lawsuits comes from two California mothers claiming that General Mills’ Nature Valley brand has falsely advertised their products as “all natural.”  The claim centers on the use of three ingredients in many of Nature Valley’s products; high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. 

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, stated that these ingredients are highly processed and would not be contained in natural foods under the loosest of definitions.

Amy McKendrick, one of the mothers filing the lawsuit, teaches agriculture in Kern County, CA.  Ms. McKendrick had been following the Feingold Program Foodlist, a guide for people using diet to treat mental disorders.  She was using the guide to treat her daughter who, at the time, was struggling with early onset bipolar disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. Ms. McKendrick said that after two years of practicing a completely organic and natural diet her daughter has been released from all of her diagnoses. 

 While selecting foods for her daughter, she discovered that Nature Valley products consisted of highly processed ingredients.  She had previously purchased several varieties of the brand’s granola bars under the impression that they were 100 percent organic.

Ms. McKendrick is one of many trying to incorporate natural foods into their diet as part of a healthier lifestyle.  Food companies understand that consumers prefer foods that are labeled natural, and have capitalized on the public’s willingness to buy more expensive products under the perception that they contain wholesome, untreated ingredients. 

The lawsuit against General Mills is only the latest in several deceptive advertising cases against corporate food companies.  In January, Baron and Budd filed a class action lawsuit against Alexia Foods, a ConAgra brand, for intentionally misleading consumers by placing an “all natural” label on their products, even though they contain disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, an industrial chemical additive.  The products in question include “Sauté Reds,” “Mashed Potatoes Yukon Gold Potatoes and Sea Salt,” “Mashed Potatoes Red Potatoes with Garlic and Parmesan,” “Waffle Fries,” “Harvest Sauté,” “Italian Sauté,” “Sauté Sweets” and “Potato Bites.” The class action lawsuit is still ongoing.

The United States Food and Drug Administration is responsible for setting regulations on  “all natural” food labeling.  The FDA asserts that “natural” can only be used when nothing artificial or synthetic is in the food product.  Both General Mills and Alexia Foods knowingly violated these regulations, but continue to use “natural” marketing in order to command a premium price.  Such reckless practices jeopardize the efforts of people like Amy McKendrick, as well as anyone else trying to live a healthier lifestyle. 

If you are aware of a company utilizing deceptive advertising practices or if you have unknowingly purchased products that you believed to be “all natural,” learn more about what you can do here.

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