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Big Ag Deceives Us With Not So Natural Foods

The label “natural” is one of the least regulated descriptors in the U.S. marketplace, and major agribusiness companies are using that to their advantage. In the latest report issued by the consumer watchdog group, The Cornucopia Institute, we learn that they’ve routinely filled boxes of cereal goods with GMO-riddled, chemically-laden foods and slapped the label “natural” on them so that we’ll feel better about buying them. From Kellogg’s to Whole Foods, it seems no major label is exempt from this practice.

From the Cornucopia Institute’s press release:

Cereal Crimes details how prominent agribusinesses are increasingly using various strategies to create the illusion of equivalence between the “natural” and organic labels to mislead consumers.

“Some companies that started out organic, and built brand loyalty as organic brands, have switched to non-organic ingredients and “natural” labeling,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at Cornucopia.

One such brand, Peace Cereal® is an example of what Cornucopia calls “bait-and-switch.” In 2008, the Peace Cereal® brand switched from organic to cheaper conventional ingredients, without lowering its prices. Today, the cereal is sold in natural food stores and mainstream grocers at prices above many of their certified organic competitors that are using more expensive organic ingredients.

Although the prices may be similar, in reality, there is a vast difference between organic and “natural” products from grain produced with the use of toxic pesticides. In some cases, companies charge high prices for “natural” products that even contain genetically engineered crops developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto.

Pesticides that are strictly prohibited in organics are commonly used to produce ingredients for “natural” products. For example, organophosphate pesticides were developed from World War II-era nerve gas and are designed to be toxic to the neurological systems of target organisms. They are deadly to insects but also have been proven damaging to humans—with fetuses and children especially at risk.

The Cornucopia Institute has even released a nifty little video exposing the problem.

As for myself, I put very little faith in labels, even “organic” ones. While the organic label protects against some things, like synthetic pesticides and GMOs, it doesn’t protect against the unethical behavior of giant agribusinesses. Nor does it protect against unhealthy foods like denatured, extruded cereal grains (see here for How To Eat Grains).

Rather, I put my faith in people. Farmers. Families. Heroes. People who have shown us with their practices that they tend their land and animals with the utmost respect for life. I trust their integrity as individuals far more than I trust the behemoth organizations that tend to line supermarket shelves with marginally acceptable food.

It is because I hold these farmers in such high esteem that I’ve chosen to donate $5 of each sale of my new Beautiful Babies e-course to both the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Weston A Price Foundation. If you’re at all curious to know how these organizations work tirelessly to support farmers and consumers, please visit the Beautiful Babies e-course FAQ page.

How about you? Is there a label or brand that you have grown to trust completely? Or do you, like me, trust people first and foremost?

(photo by shallowend)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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30 Responses to Big Ag Deceives Us With Not So Natural Foods
  1. Tina Loving via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:18 pm

    I haven’t trusted major labels for a long time. They’re are only interested in making their shareholders money.

  2. Heide Johnson via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:22 pm

    I wonder about corn starch and corn syrup, if it is GMO…..

  3. Sarah Law Webb via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:22 pm

    my favorite is when the label says “no HFC” but one of the first ingredients is corn syrup.” boo

  4. Angelina DeLuca Ayers via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:23 pm

    I totally agree! It’s sad, but true. Now if I can just get my farmer to make me some corn flakes…

  5. Michele Musci via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:25 pm

    I totally agree, but I really do like to have a box or two of healthy cereal on hand for those super hectic mornings. I regret the mountains of Kashi and Puffins I’ve eaten and fed my family over the years, not that I know about GMOs. :(

  6. Food Renegade via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:32 pm

    @Heide — I think if they’re not labeled with the USDA Organic label, it is almost guaranteed they’re GMOs. I don’t remember the exact number, but more than 90% of our country’s corn supply is GMO.

  7. Lauren Snyder Grosz via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:34 pm

    I think this article really drives home the point that asking the FDA to label GMO foods is liking asking the fox to guard the hen house. I know it’s a tired analogy, but they unfortunately aren’t my strong point.
    Mark Thornton has written a fantastic article about what really keeps us safe and uses Underwriters Laboratories to make his point. Hopefully, I can get it to link.

  8. Tina Loving via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:34 pm

    ^ There is no guarantee the corn anything is GMO free even the organic corn.

  9. Tina Loving via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:35 pm

    I just stay away from corn as much as possible.

  10. Lauren Snyder Grosz via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:35 pm

    If there is a new trick to linking in comments I’d love to know. In the meantime Kristen I’ll attach it via your wall if anyone’s interested.

  11. Marie 'Z' Johnston via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:37 pm

    Buy local and know your farmers!

  12. Jason Thompson via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:40 pm

    I had no idea. The ‘who owns who’ organic/natural food companies charts linked in the article are an eye opener. Thanks.

  13. Karin Antal via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:45 pm

    This report depressed me. I read it yesterday on Natural News.

  14. Heide Johnson via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:50 pm

    Oh, thank you, I didn’t realize 90% of our corn is GMO, ick!

  15. Rebecca Thistlethwaite via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:57 pm

    There are even farmers that label their stuff as “natural” such as meat, eggs, etc. It is a meaningless term and usually means they are using conventional feed, seed, and chemicals. Go for certified organic if you can.

  16. Sybil Strawser via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 2:58 pm

    “natural” is nothing but an advertising buzz word when it comes to the labeling on the big brands.

  17. Michelle Mick Bryan via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 3:00 pm

    share with jillian michaels and dr. oz

  18. Brittnee Turner Horting via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 3:02 pm

    Granola is the only kind of convenience cereal I buy…and it’s sweetened with honey and not denatured like other cereals.

  19. Food Renegade via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 3:10 pm

    @Brittnee — even if it’s not “denatured,” it’s still probably not properly prepared grains. Grains have been the mainstay of civilization for thousands of years, but not without some sort of processing or treatment to render them more digestible (like sprouting and/or fermenting them). I wouldn’t make a habit of eating improperly prepared cereal grains.

  20. Lucy W. Zakharoff via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 4:12 pm

    Did you mean Whole Foods the market?

  21. Food Renegade via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 4:26 pm

    @Lucy — Yes, I do.

  22. Howard C. Gray via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 4:41 pm

    I’m always disgusted when a label reads “Traditional 1832 recipe” and you flip it over and find SOYBEAN or CANOLA oil in it. LIARS! I want to start writing these companies and complaining cause soybean oil is showing up in EVERYTHING!

  23. Brittnee Turner Horting via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 4:48 pm

    I have 3 kids under 5…I do what I can with the budget I have. Atleast there are no GMO’s in the granola. We can’t all be perfect all the time, but I try my hardest. Grains are not a mainstay in our diet at all…but once in awhile I need a quick breakfast.

  24. Brittnee Turner Horting via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 4:48 pm

    And I can identify every ingredient in the granola…as opposed to most cereals!

  25. Michele Musci via Facebook
    October 12, 2011 | 7:04 pm

    Is there a relatively simple way to make cereal from “properly prepared grains”? It would be wonderful to learn another way to improve our pantry.

  26. Eating Poorganically
    October 12, 2011 | 9:49 pm

    It’s worth reminding everyone that wheat and oats are not genetically modified crops, so while you still want to avoid soy and corn derivatives used as preservatives; certified organic cereals like shredded wheat or granolas (with limited ingredients) have passed my poorganic test.

    • KristenM
      October 13, 2011 | 11:36 am

      “Poorganic” — I like that word!

  27. Vanessa Hill
    October 13, 2011 | 10:42 pm

    I complain about this all the time to my boyfriend. “Natural” does not mean good for you. Selling food is just that – a business, and sadly, most food corporations do not care about your health, they only care about the bottom line and profits.

    In fact just today I received an email from a major food company, responding to my question about if their products had any ingredients that included or were similar to MSG. They responded and basically evaded the question by saying there was no monosodium glutamate, and that all added flavors were “natural” based on definition of the FDA. That is a bunch of BS. They should think twice if they think I’m going to fall for that. And so when I see natural in a supermarket, this marketing ploy is not a factor in the decision of what goes in my shopping cart.

  28. Karen
    October 14, 2011 | 12:52 am

    I don’t trust any label. They aren’t much different than a cartoon used car salesman. Poison Ivy is natural and organic, doesn’t make it good for you. If you didn’t grow it yourself, or know who did grow it, you know precious little about it. Are you going to trust someone you can look in the eye, or someone who has a department where form letters are composed and approved by the legal department?

  29. nicolette @ momnivore's dilemma
    October 19, 2011 | 11:05 pm

    Our holistic wellness coach pushed me to rethink breakfast as a “farmer’s breakfast”…high in protein and fat. Sure, the ease of cereal is missed, but I can’t imagine giving that to my family now…

    My boys are growing up thinking every morning is a Sunday morning breakfast…lol…

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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