Kashi

In October 2011, The Cornucopia Institute, an organic and agriculture policy group, released a comprehensive report titled “Cereal Crimes: How ‘Natural’ Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label—A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle.” The report claimed that major cereal brands including Whole Foods private label and Kashi—one of the top-selling breakfast cereal manufacturers—were selling products that tested positive for genetically modified organisms in products labeled “all natural.”

The World Health Organization has defined genetic modification as altering organisms in “a way that does not occur naturally.” The use of the term “natural” on products containing GMOs has landed manufacturers including ConAgra and Frito Lay with class-action lawsuits over the issue.

In Kashi’s case, the report caused a swell of consumer concern and demands that the accused brands properly label their products or fix the problem. Then, the situation seemed to die down somewhat until last week when a Rhode Island store pulled Kashi’s products from its shelves and a photo of a sign posted at the empty shelf space about why the products were pulled began circulating on the Internet. The backlash led Kashi to temporarily shut down its toll-free customer phone number and the company’s Facebook page was inundated with concerned customer comments.

Kashi quickly responded with what appeared to be a hasty and defensive video suggesting that situations like crop drift and storage contamination were the likely factors in their products testing positive for GMOs. Further confounding the situation is Kashi’s participation in The Non-GMO project—currently the only third-party certifier of non-GMO foods—which the company has stated it firmly stands by, despite the presence of GMOs in its popular products.

Denying Cornucopia’s tests, a Kashi representative told a Cornucopia staff member on the phone that “no actual testing” had ever occurred, according to a statement released by the organization. “We purchased a readily available box of Kashi’s GoLean® cereal from a Whole Foods store. We then sent a sample to an accredited national lab for testing, finding that the soy in the natural cereal was 100% GMO, ” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director. “We hope that companies like Kashi, marketing what they call natural foods, will instead choose to meet their consumers’ expectations by sourcing truly organic ingredients,” Fantle added. Now, Kashi has announced that by the end of 2014 all of its existing products will be Non-GMO Project Verified, and starting in 2015, all new Kashi foods will contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and will also be Non-GMO Project Verified.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: alexstaubo