A judge dismissed a lawsuit against General Mills over its use of "natural" to describe Nature Valley granola bars.
Several consumers and consumer groups sued General Mills, claiming it misled the public by labeling the granola bars as "Made with 100 percent natural whole grain oats."
The class-action lawsuit claimed there are trace amounts of glyphosate – a chemical that can be found in herbicides – in Nature Valley granola bars, which people "expect to be natural and free of toxins," a consumer group said in a news release last August.
But last week, U.S. District Court of Minnesota Judge Michael J. Davis called those claims "implausible" and dismissed the case.
In his dismissal order, which was posted online by Liability Desk, Davis wrote it's "not plausible" to claim that "Made with 100 percent natural whole grain oats" means there's not a little bit of glyphosate in the granola bars or that a "reasonable consumer" would interpret the label as meaning that.
Davis says the packaging states it's made with "100 percent natural whole grain oats," not that the entire bar is "100 percent natural." So even if there's glyphosate in the bar, it doesn't mean the oats themselves aren't natural.
Plus, there's no federal standard to call something "natural" like there is for labeling something "organic," with Davis noting people tend to hold organic products to a higher standard than those labeled "natural."
Adds Davis: "It would be nearly impossible to produce a processed food with no trace of any synthetic molecule."
In a statement to GoMN, General Mills said: "We are pleased with the court's ruling."
The 'natural' food debate
There's been ongoing debate on what it means to label a food as "natural."
So many people want it defined that last year the FDA said it would explore the use of the term, and was looking for public comment on defining "natural" on food labels.
The agency still hasn't released an official definition of the word, but last year it did say it has a "longstanding policy" for using the term "natural" in human food labeling:
"The FDA has considered the term 'natural' to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic ... has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food."
But that policy doesn't address food production or manufacturing methods (so the use of pesticides), and it didn't consider if the term "natural" should describe whether something is healthy.