General Mills to Drop "100% Natural" Claims on Nature Valley Granola Bars with Artificial Ingredient
Agreement Settles 2012 Lawsuit
A settlement agreement announced today prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars, crispy squares, and trail mix bars are "100% Natural" if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. The agreement, which is effective immediately and applies to labeling and marketing for 30 Nature Valley products, settles a 2012 lawsuitbrought on behalf of consumers by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and two law firms.
CSPI privately raised its concern with General Mills over its "100% Natural" claims as early as 2005. The company began phasing out its use of high-fructose corn syrup in some products, but at the time of CSPI's lawsuit was still using high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. While those ingredients are derived from corn, they are produced by treating corn starch with acids, enzymes, or both before being refined into a substance that does not occur in nature.
CSPI says the agreement helps nudge the marketplace, otherwise awash in varyingly flimsy "natural" claims, in the right direction. That's important, the group says, because regulators at the Food and Drug Administration have mostly remained on the sidelines as companies and industry trade groups squabble over what’s natural and what's not.
"No acceptable official definition of 'natural' should allow the claim on highly processed ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup or maltodextrin, substances that literally do not occur in nature," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "But as long as there is no definition, companies will still recklessly make the claim, and consumers will continue to be deceived."
The FDA has a limited definition of natural—foods that do "not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances"—but it rarely enforces it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition for meat and poultry products focuses on whether ingredients are "minimally processed" or not. The Food Labeling Modernization Act, introduced in Congress in 2013 by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), would prohibit the use of the word "natural" on a food that includes any synthesized ingredient, or any ingredient that has undergone chemical changes such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, maltodextrin, chemically modified food starch, or alkalized cocoa. The bill also calls on the FDA to develop a more encompassing definition of natural.