Advertising, at the end of the day, shouldn’t be too hard. You say things that are true, and you don’t say things that aren’t true. That, of course, is in an ideal world.
In reality, companies are called out for making misleading claims on a fairly regular basis – and one of the most common misleading claims from the past few years has to do with food. Specifically, it has to do with all-natural food – or, rather, not all-natural food that just pretends to be natural. The rise of the organic and natural food industries has tempted manufacturers to present their foods as natural and healthy even when they’re not, and customers who seek out foods labeled “all natural” are often deceived. Want proof? Check out our guide to “all natural” lawsuits. Recognize any of these companies?
Mislabeling “natural” food is shockingly common and the problem is exacerbated in part by the fact that the term “natural” – unlike “organic” – is an unregulated term. So, what does natural mean then? It’s often left up to the companies to decide. And, in lawsuits brought against food manufacturers who misuse the term, the burden is on plaintiffs to convincingly argue that the ingredients at issue cannot reasonably be considered natural. That’s exactly what happened with Kashi, a unit of Kellogg Co., after customers took the company to court for advertising its GOLEAN Crunch! cereals as “all natural” despite allegedly containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
This week, the company announced it would pay almost $4 million to settle the proposed class action, reimbursing class members without receipts up to $27.50 for the cost of cereals and other products named in the lawsuit. Crucially, Kashi has also agreed to change its labels and to remove the “all-natural” claims from all products that contain the GMO ingredients. The company will also submit to supervised compliance with a non-GMO verification program, hopefully ensuring its future products are more accurately marketed and labeled.
In originally filing the suit, the two lead plaintiffs claimed that they purchased Kashi’s products believing that the all-natural label meant the products were free of GMOs. They claimed that if consumers ingested food containing GMOs, chemicals and insecticides could end up in their blood. Kashi has always disputed the claims, and the newly announced settlement – three years in the making – is a big win for consumers. The news follows an $8 million settlement reached with California consumers in a similar lawsuit in July 2014.
So, good news for shoppers and, ultimately, a good thing for Kashi. Accurate labels help everybody, from manufacturers to consumers, and are a step in the right direction to knowing exactly what’s in our food. One day, we might not like the fact that our labels are so accurate – but we’re not there just yet.