In the fight for a better food system, it’s broadly known that labels like “all natural” mean next to nothing. There’s no legal definition of what constitutes natural food in the U.S., and manufacturers have used the word widely and liberally. Yet the pushback against this misleading term is growing.
In a lawsuit settlement today, General Mills agreed to remove the label “100% Natural” from more than 20 of its products, including its Nature Valley snack bars and crispy squares. According to the agreement, the food manufacturer will not use the term “100% Natural” on any product that contains more than 0.9 percent of synthetically produced ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sodium bicarbonate or a number of others.
The agreement also stipulates that no product containing more than 0.9 percent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be labeled “100% Natural.” This is important, because research from Consumer Reports found that more than half of American believe that foods labeled “natural” are GMO-free.
The class-action lawsuit against General Mills was filed in 2012 by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest on behalf of several concerned consumers. ConAgra and Frito-Lay have faced similar lawsuits in the past.
A number of consumer advocates including the Center for Science in the Public Interest have called for stricter regulations for the term “natural,” while others have suggested the label be banned outright.
In the absence of such regulation, the threat of legal action may prompt food manufacturers to think more carefully about what they consider natural.