Kashi Cereal Lovers Red-Faced Over Company’s “Natural” Claims

A Rhode Island store pulled Kashi cereal from its shelves and posted a sign about it. Now a photo of that sign has gone viral.

“You might be wondering where your favorite Kashi cereals have gone. It has recently come to our attention that 100% of the soy used in Kashi products is Genetically Modified, and that when the USDA tested the grains used there were found to be pesticides that are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors.”

That’s the sign posted in the cereal aisle of a Portsmouth, Rhode Island grocery store called the Green Grocer. It’s been hanging there for a few months, but earlier this week, someone snapped a photo and posted it to online—and then it went viral.

Let’s back up for a minute. John Wood, who owns the store, actually removed the Kashi products from his store back in February, after reading a 2011 report from a group called the Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group that supports organic farmers. The report states that only four of Kashi’s 24 cereal products are actually certified organic and that Kellogg, the umbrella company that owns Kashi, “purchases genetically engineered ingredients for its ‘natural’ Kashi products,” including chemically processed soy.

When Wood got wind of this, he pulled most of the Kashi products from his shelves and posted the sign. Photos of the sign were posted online this week—and now people are pissed.

Angry Kashi customers have been taking their frustrations to the company’s Facebook wall, posting hundreds of comments. Two examples:

The company responded yesterday by posting a video in which a Kashi nutritionist named Keegan comments about the “inaccurate information being circulated online about Kashi ingredients.” She explains that “while it’s likely that some of our foods contain GMOs”—that’s genetically modified organisms—”the main reason for that is because in North America well over 80 percent of many crops including soy beans are grown using GMOs. Factors outside our control … have led to an environment where GMOs are not sufficiently controlled.” She goes on to say that last year Kashi partnered with the Non-GMO Project, a third-party group that independently tests food for GMOs. The project recently deemed seven Kashi cereals to be GMO-free, with potentially more on the way as the verification process continues.

“The information circulating is scientifically inaccurate and misleading,” Keegan says, “because it was not based on testing of actual Kashi products but instead on general USDA data. We’re confident that our products are free of substance that would pose a health risk to our consumers.”

Maybe, but it still raises questions about product marketing and labeling practices. While products labeled as “organic” are federally regulated, most that claim to be “natural” are not. (The exception are meat and poultry products, which are USDA-regulated.) So labels claiming a food is “natural” or “all-natural” are, well, kind of meaningless as far as consumers are concerned. Last year, someone brought a class-action suit against Kashi for its having “falsely and misleadingly labeled virtually all Kashi products as ‘all natural’ or containing nothing artificial even though the products allegedly do not conform to applicable federal regulations and policies on ‘natural.'”

I’m not trying to single out Kashi here (I don’t eat the stuff, so it’s neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned), but the brouhaha is a good case-in-point for arguing that food manufacturers need be more responsible in how they label and market their food—that there has to be a standard across the board so consumers can be certain that “natural” on the front of a box of crackers means the same as “natural” on Kashi cereal.

Someone has to hold them to a higher standard—whether it’s the USDA, FDA, or angry consumers on Twitter and Facebook.