Prominent Brand Representing "Natural" Foods as Organic
Organic Industry Watchdog Files Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
Cornucopia, Wis. -- The Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Hearthside Food Solutions, which manufactures Peace Cereal, is misleading consumers by suggesting that its "natural" breakfast cereals are grown and processed without pesticides.
The Peace Cereal website states that "natural foods are foods without pesticides or artificial additives, as well as being minimally processed and preservative-free." Unlike organics, there is no federally regulated standard for the term "natural" on foods, which contain conventional, non-organic ingredients.
"Natural foods are essentially conventional foods with a higher price tag, whereas organic foods are grown without the use of toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers," explains Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst with Cornucopia. "Stating that "natural foods' are "without pesticides' is completely without basis, and highly misleading to consumers."
Peace Cereal, whose products were formerly certified organic, has been using conventional ingredients since 2008. Conventional ingredients are routinely sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides. Without organic certification, consumers cannot be assured that ingredients used in conventional products like Peace Cereal are truly "without pesticides."
The Cornucopia Institute is a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. The group recently conducted an investigation which found numerous stores in several states that carried "organic" signs on shelves of the non-organic Peace Cereal, as well as mislabeled bulk bins with non-organic granola made by the same company as Peace Cereal.
"We view this company as a' bad actor,'" states Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of Cornucopia. "This company is clearly trying to profit from the good name and reputation of organics, and exploiting consumer trust."
Cornucopia noted, that, "adding insult to injury," non-organic Peace Cereal is often priced higher than namebrand certified organic breakfast cereals on supermarket shelves.
Recent polls show that consumers are already confused about the difference between the terms "natural" and "organic." The "organic" term carries real meaning and legal weight, since organic producers must, by law, adhere to a congressionally-mandated uniform set of federal standards. Meanwhile, the term "natural" is unregulated.
Despite this difference, a survey of 1006 consumers by The Shelton Group, a Tennessee-based research firm, found that 31 percent of respondents said '100 percent natural' is the most desirable eco-friendly product label claim.
"This misinformation has been a key component of corporate agribusinesses' "natural" marketing blitz for years. Companies like Hearthside, which makes Peace Cereal, are contributing to this consumer confusion by pretending that "natural' is equivalent to "organic,'" states Vallaeys.
A different 2010 poll, by the Hartman Group, a Washington-based research firm, shows that 62% of consumers believe that the claim "natural" on foods implies or suggests the absence of pesticides. In reality, manufacturers of food labeled "natural" use conventional ingredients that are overwhelmingly treated with pesticides.
Cornucopia says that Hearthside has "stepped over a line," doing more than engaging in marketing hyperbole, by disseminating factually inaccurate statements that economically disadvantage organic competitors.
The Cornucopia Institute urges the Federal Trade Commission, which prevents companies from using false and misleading advertising claims, to investigate these claims.
"By making this statement on their website, Peace Cereal is misrepresenting its products--implying they are organic, when they are not," states Vallaeys.