Corporate Crimes In the Cereal Aisle: How Companies Are Fooling You Into Thinking Their Products Are Healthy
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A trip to the supermarket is an adventure into a tempting and treacherous jungle. The insatiable hunger for a ready-made breakfast that nourishes our bodies and our social conscience has made our morning bowls of cereal a hiding place for corporate charlatans. A new report, Cereal Crimes, by the Cornucopia Institute discloses the toxic truth about “natural” products and unmasks corporate faces like Kellogg’s hiding behind supposedly “family-run” businesses such as Kashi.
When these breakfast barons forage for profit, we eaters are the prey. But what are the laws of this jungle? And how do we avoid being ripped off by products that are hazardous for our health and our environment? Let’s have a look at some of these corporations’ sneaky strategies.
First, there is intentional confusion. With so many different kinds of cereal lining the shelves, figuring out which is the best requires detective work. Many make claims about health, boasting “no trans fats,” “gluten-free,” and “a boost of omega three.” Others play to environmental concerns declaring “earthy harmony,” “nature in balance,” and “sustainable soils.” With the legion of labels, separating wheat from chaff seems impossible, but the report offers one rule of thumb: Don’t confuse organic with “natural.”
Organics, certified and recognizable by the green USDA label, are required by federal law to be produced without toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients. “Natural,” on the other hand, is defined by the producers themselves to mislead shoppers and protect shareholders. Cornucopia’s report found that, “When determining their ‘natural’ standards, companies will consider their profitability. Environmental concerns are unlikely to weigh heavily, if at all, in this profitability equation.”
Too bad we’ve been falling for it. The report cites a 2009 poll showing 33 percent of the public trusts the “natural” label while 45 percent trust the organic label.
Generally “natural” is thought to imply the absence of pesticides and genetically engineered organisms, but a closer look at the crunchy goodness inside the boxes reveals the content of both. Tests run by the institute showed as high as 100 percent genetically engineered (GE) contaminated ingredients in popular products like Kashi GoLean, Mother’s Bumpers, Nutritious Living Hi-Lo, and General Mills Kix. Even the brands explicitly claiming to be “non-GMO” failed the test, some of them containing more that 50 percent GE corn. Organic products, such as Nature’s Path certified organic corn flakes, were GMO and GE free when tested.
Moreover, conventional ingredients, which “natural” products contain, have been found to hold traces of pesticides. The USDA found detectable neurotoxins in popular breakfast ingredients like oats, wheat, soybeans, corn, almonds, raisins, blueberries, honey and cranberries. New studies are constantly finding new health risks associated with exposure to pesticides. One such found that exposure during pregnancy increased the risk of a pervasive developmental disorder and delays of mental development at 2 to 3 years of age, while another found postnatal exposure to be associated with behavioral problems, poorer short-term memory and motor skills, and longer reaction times among children. Adding to the picture, a recent study by University of Montreal and Harvard University found association between organophosphate in children and ADHD.
It is time for us to reconsider what we associate with the term "natural." In his book, In Defense of Food,Michael Pollan sends out a warning against health claims on food: “As a general rule it’s a whole lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over in the Cereal the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming their new found ‘whole-grain goodness’ to the rafters.”