May 2, 2012

Kashi and GMOs? How to Buy Tolerable Products.


The Kellogg’s brand Kashi has been in the news, in a viral depiction of a downfall from crunchy darling to a GMO-lovin’ trickster.

When a Rhode Island grocer replaced Kashi products with a note of dissatisfaction, a comment storm invaded the brand’s Facebook page, food blogs and consumer media.

The brand is being accused of using genetically modified soy and non-organic ingredients. Though this isn’t an FDA infraction, inclusion of such ingredients have angered a loyal following of customers seeking natural options.

And, apparently, the product (despite the GMOs) is still, technically, considered “natural” in the mixed-up other-world of food labels. According to reporting form The Cornucopia Institute:

While Kashi offers some certified organic breakfast cereal options, the vast majority of its products are conventionally produced foods labeled “natural.” The company does not have a commitment to prohibit or avoid genetically engineered ingredients in its “natural” products. Test results reveal that Kellogg indeed purchases genetically engineered ingredients for its “natural” Kashi products (genetically engineered ingredients are prohibited by law from Kashi’s organic products).

This leaves customers angry at what seems like a greenwash, but Kashi disagrees. A letter from David  DeSouza, Kashi General Manager, released this week, touts the company’s commitment: All new Kashi foods to be Non-GMO Project Verified and contain at least 70% organic ingredients beginning 2015.

But there’s a complex umbrealla issue here, which doesn’t begin and end with one company. Again, from The Cornucopia Institute:

Federal law requires that organic food products be produced promoting ecological sustainability, without the toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients common in the conventional food system.

Increasingly, organic products are forced to compete with products that claim to be “natural.”

There are no restrictions for foods labeled “natural” (very basic standards exist only for meat products). The term often constitutes nothing more than meaningless marketing hype promoted by corporate interests seeking to cash in on the consumer desire for food produced in a genuinely sustainable manner.

Unlike the organic label, no government agency, certification group or other independent entity fully defines the term “natural” on processed food packages or ensures that the claim has merit.

So, how do we know if we are getting a safe products that meets our expectations? A comment on the Kashi Facebook page asks:

So, just trying to get down to the facts. My kids love Cinnamon Harvest. Been buying it for years and feeding it to them based on the organic label. Does this product contain GMO’s or pesticides? We were at Sam’s yesterday and skipped the Kashi for the first time in years based on the current allegations being circulated. The kids were not happy. Kashi Cinnamon Harvest. Organic or corporate BS?

It’s a valid question, but who to ask, how to ask, how often to ask? Because labeling is fishing, green-washing sells and most of us are are enmeshed in the uncomfortable mix of consumerism, how do we know what’s in the food we buy, eat and feed our families?

>The Cornucopia Institute has done the leg work on cereals. Read their report on Cereal Crimes (Yes, 50 pages on cereal credibility. This is a big deal.), watch their video and use their shopping scorecard.

>Cornucopia also offers reports on eggs, dairy, soy, infant formula and lab-based oils. Reports, alerts, scorecards and more can be found on their website.

>The Institute for Responsible Technology presents a Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

>The Organic Consumers Association maintains a buying guide, a comprehensive directory of green and organic businesses.

>Local Harvest features a directory of farmers’ markets, family farms and other sources for sustainable, local food and goods.

>Natural Food maintains a listing of certified organic products ranging from health & beauty to pet food to produce. And, yes, they have an app.

Helpful guides, reports and articles are good tools to keep handy, but nothing outweighs the power of inquisitive, engaged gumption. Ask questions, pay attention, beware of green-wash. In some cases, you may need to forgo a product if there is not a convincing, healthy, organic option.

Word of warning: though it’s essential to do our research, relying on one tool means we’ve given up to control, which is the root of the tangle from start-to-finish.

And, now I’m serious about this, we have to speak up. The consumer population must tell legislators, companies and each other what’s important and tolerable. Most of the organizations listed above offer opportunities to take action. To get started, join the Action Alert network at The Cornucopia Institute.

And when in doubt, grow your own.


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