July 27, 2012 — General Mills, the manufacturer of Nature Valley granola bars, has been sued by two mothers in California who claim that the product’s “100% natural” slogan is deceptive and misleading, because the products actually contain several highly-processed ingredients. The women are attempting to turn their claim into a class action lawsuit that would force General Mills to forfeit profits the company has made on granola bars that contain the processed ingredients.
Amy McKendrick, one of the mothers who filed the lawsuit, says she wanted to raise awareness that Nature Valley granola bars contain dye and processed ingredients, and the granola bars may not be as natural as packaging would lead consumers to believe. She claims that her 6-year-old daughter suffered from early onset bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. After Ms. Kendrick removed all foods with dyes, additives, and processed ingredients, she says her daughter was cured of her psychiatric disorders — except for some lingering anxiety. Ms. Kendrick had been feeding her daughter Nature Valley products, which she purchased under the impression that “100% Natural” meant no processed ingredients. When she found out that this was not true, she filed a lawsuit for false advertising.
Government requirements for foods labeled “natural” and “organic” are not the same — foods labeled “organic” are held to much stricter standards than “natural” labels. However, many consumers do not realize there is a difference.
The mothers were concerned about three ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup, and maltodextrin (a thickener derived from any food starch, usually from corn). These products are mostly derived from corn, but they are highly-processed before they are used in food.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that “General Mills seeks to capitalize on consumers’ preference for all-natural foods and the association between such foods and a wholesome way of life.” Furthermore, by advertising the products with images of nature and wildlife, “Consumers are wiling to pay more for natural foods because of this association, as well as the perceived higher quality, health and safety benefits and low impact on the environment associated with products labeled as ‘natural.’”
After some consumer advocates complained that high fructose corn syrup is not a “natural” ingredient, General Mills removed the ingredient from most products in 2010. However, the maltodextrin and maltose corn syrup remained. General Mills is now facing several lawsuits regarding false advertising, for Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit Snacks, and Cheerios.
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