General Mills has been targeted with three class-action lawsuits alleging it misrepresented its products as containing “100% natural” oats. The suit specifically targets certain Nature Valley granola bars and snacks, which have been found to contain trace levels of glyphosate.
The three lawsuits were filed last Wednesday on behalf of the Organic Consumers Association and advocacy groups Moms Across America and Beyond Pesticides in District Courts in New York, California, and Minnesota.
The products cited in the case include Nature Valley granola bars, breakfast biscuits, oatmeal squares, oatmeal bars, and oatmeal bistro cups.
The levels of glyphosate in the products were at 0.45 parts per million, significantly lower than the EPA’s permitted threshold of 30 parts per million for cereal grains. The suit alleges, however, that any product labeled “100% natural” should contain no herbicide residue whatsoever.
“The oat products at issue are not made with 100% natural whole grain oats, but instead the oats contain the chemical glyphosate, a potent biocide and human endocrine disruptor, with detrimental health effects that are still becoming known,” the plaintiff argued. “Consumers reasonably believe that a product or ingredient represented as natural or 100% natural does not contain synthetic ingredients.”
This argument was backed up by a 2014 phone survey conducted by Consumer Reports, which showed that 66 percent of consumers believed that a natural label meant that no toxic pesticides were used.
"I’m not interested in just seeing the word 'natural' removed," said lead attorney Kim Richman, who said that the ideal end goal of the lawsuit would be "to clean up our food system."
This is not the first time that General Mills has had its natural claims questioned. In 2014, it agreed to remove the “100% natural” label from granola bars containing high-fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin.
Post and PepsiCo have recently been targeted with similar lawsuits over the presence of glyphosate in their "natural" products.
"Every lawyer on the defense side I’ve been in touch with is clearly advising their clients to avoid using this word," Michele Simon, a public health attorney who advises natural food companies told Bloomberg.
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Granola bar image via Shutterstock