How Big Agribusiness Is Taking Over The Cereal And Granola Aisle

That natural cereal you're eating isn't so natural. It's filled with GMO and nonorganic ingredients. Surprise!

Take a walk down the grocery store cereal aisle and you'll see plenty of healthy-sounding brands: Nature's Path, Peace Cereal, Kashi, Barbara's Bakery. But not all of them are as natural as they seem, according to a new report. In fact, many (but by no means all) of these brands contain genetically modified ingredients--and in some cases, pesticide residue.

The news comes from the Cornucopia Institute's Cereal Crimes report (PDF), which examines how big agribusiness is falsely marketing its foods as being natural--an easy thing to do, since unlike certified Organic or Fair Trade, there is no there is no "certified natural" label. And according to Cornucopia, so-called natural brands are priced competitively with organics, even though their ingredients aren't up to snuff.

So what exactly do companies think that the word "natural" means? Barbara's Bakery defines it: "All natural means choosing high-quality ingredients to provide optimum nutrition and taste. It means no refined sugar, hydrogenated oils, artificial food additives, flavors or preservatives." But Cornucopia says that the company uses GMO ingredients. And both Kashi and Bear Naked products contain GMO soy and hexane, a byproduct of gasoline refining and a potential neurotoxin.

Many of the most popular "natural" brands, including Kashi's, Mother's, 365, Barbara's Bakery, and Nutritious Living, contain over 28% GMO ingredients. At least one cereal company--Peace Cereal--used to be organic, but the company switched to cheap conventional ingredients in 2008. Most customers have no idea, of course.

There is no easy solution to the problem. Customers are undoubtedly being duped into thinking that these products are actually made with non-GMO and natural ingredients (in a 2010 poll from the Hartman Group, the majority of respondents believed that the term "natural" meant pesticide, herbicide, and GMO-free ). Cornucopia suggests that all of these "natural" brands should actually switch over to being organic. But why should they? The companies can command premium prices without having to deal with actual certification. Instead, maybe "natural" products should also be held to a third-party certification standard--with 100% non-GMO ingredients as a requirement.

[Image: Flickr user Some Guy Photo]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Maria Emmer-Aanes

    Ariel-We are grateful that the Cornucopia Institute has revealed the truth about these supposedly healthy cereals, particularly since we at Nature’s Path are committed to consumers’ right to know what’s in their food – especially when it comes to GMOs.  We were mentioned in this Fast Company post due to our healthy-sounding name, but we can assure everyone that ALL of our products are USDA certified ORGANIC and bear the NON-GMO PROJECT VERIFIED seal, unlike any other cereal player in our category. The NON-GMO PROJECT VERIFIED seal lets you know that our products have passed rigorous, independent testing and are the best choice for avoiding GMOs.  For more information on our Non GMO and certified organic leadership please visit our website or read today’s community comments on our Facebook post of the Cornucopia Institute study at!/na.... Maria Emmer-AanesDirector of Marketing & CommunicationsNature's Path Foods, Inc. 

  • jvangiel

    What is a priori wrong with GGO?
    The Natural fallacy is popping up here, which states that everything natural is Good or Better. That is not so.
    Third: "what is natural" is indeed a wrong question. There is no good definition for natural. On one hand everything is natural, because everything originates from nature. On the other hand, nothing is natural, because some people tend to say that things that are manmade are not natural. Well, if that is the definition, then apples are not natural because appletrees that provide consumable apples don't exist in nature. They are grafted by men, combining a trunk and a crown of different races. Also the corn plants are rifinments originating from modified teosinte, a wild plant that is almost impossible to consume.

  • Ariel Schwartz

    I think part of the problem is that people think they know what "natural" indicates--pesticide, herbicide, GMO-free--but that's just not the case. Consumers are being misled.