Lesson From Kashi Controversy: ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Equal Organic Or GMO-Free

Kashi cereals is taking grief from customers for using non-organic and genetically modified ingredients in its ‘all-natural’ cereals and snacks. The dustup started after Rhode Island grocer John Wood put up a sign alerting customers that he’d stopped carrying Kashi products after learning the company used soy from soybeans inserted with a gene to protect them from the herbicide Roundup. Kashi—a line produced by processed-food conglomerate Kellogg—describes its foods as “all natural,” on packaging and the company website. And it is—at least according to legal guidelines.

It seems perfectly reasonable for the grocer to have decided not to sell Kashi products if he believes they don’t conform to his or his customer’s whole foods standards. I’m less sympathetic to customers who are freaking out about it. The company states very clearly on its website which products are GMO free and which aren’t. In terms of ‘natural’ v. ‘organic,’ well … Kashi isn’t responsible for educating you about what different food labels mean.

By 2015 all new Kashi products will contain at least 70% USDA certified organic ingredients, and  some already do. In the meantime, the company hasn’t done anything wrong, said David DeSouza, Kashi general manager. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t actually regulate the term ‘natural.’ And Kashi defines natural as any “food that’s minimally processed, made with no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners,” he explained.

Even Barbara Haumann of the Organic Trade Association in Brattleboro, Vt.  said Kashi is not misleading people.

Consumers “are totally confused” and don’t understand that the only way to get organic food is to buy organic, she says.

U.S. organic regulations do prohibit the use of genetically modified ingredients in products labeled “organic.”

I love Kashi in the same way I love Annie’s organic mac-n-cheese. Kashi’s “wheat biscuit’ cereals, granola bars and crackers are certainly better for you in some ways than the popular packaged snacks they imitate (Kellogg’s mini-wheats, Triscuits, etc.)—made with whole grains and without preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup. But no matter how many whole grains they contain, packaged cookies, cereals and mac-and-cheese are still packaged cookies, cereals and mac-and-cheese. Being all natural doesn’t necessarily make them healthy, it just makes them healthier than conventional alternatives.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between natural and organic labels on cereals and packaged foods, see this report by the Cornucopia Institute, an organic and agriculture policy group. Here’s Kashi’s video response to the criticisms:

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    • Ken Roseboro

      The spokesperson said that the information about Kashi’s products being tested for GMOs was not accurate, but the fact is that several Kashi cereals were tested by an independent laboratory for GMOs and they tested positive.
      However, I give Kashi credit for having their products verified through the Non-GMO Project. They should be commended for that.

    • judith

      will not purchase any kashi products (ever). i am not the only one who has made this statement. sales will trickle and maybe just maybe you will figure it out.