Someone Sued Because ‘Natural’ Nature Valley Granola Bars Contain Common Pesticide

Although the term “natural” is not defined by the federal government — allowing basically any food company to slap it on a product’s label — a judge has decided that General Mills’ use of the term to describe granola bars that contain herbicide is not deceptive.

A Quartet Of Claims

First, some background: A quartet of lawsuits claimed last summer that General Mills is deceiving customers with a label on Nature Valley granola bars that says the snacks are “made with 100% natural grain oats,” because the products contain small amounts of a widely used pesticide called glyphosate.

Although the level of pesticide in the bars is well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits, the suit says it’s still too much for the product to merit a “100% natural” label.

Those lawsuits were consolidated into a single class-action, which was brought before Judge Michael J. Davis in a Minnesota district court.

A Lack Of Allegations Against Oats

In granting General Mills’ motion to dismiss the suit [PDF], Davis said that “regardless of whether and how the FDA does decide to take up the definition of the term ‘natural,’ which it has so far declined to do, the plaintiff’s claims in this case are simply not plausible.”

Davis doesn’t have an issue with the plaintiffs’ allegation that the granola bars contain trace glyphosate, but points out that consumers shouldn’t hold the products to a stricter standard when it comes to herbicide residue than the federal government does for anything labeled “organic.”

Under those regulations, foods bearing the “organic” label are allowed to contain chemical pesticide residue, so long as it is less than 5 percent of EPA tolerance for the detected residue.

Noting that consumers generally conflate the ideas of “natural” and “organic” — or hold products labeled “organic” to a higher standard than those labeled “natural” — Davis says it is”implausible that a reasonable consumer would believe ingredients allowed in a product labeled ‘organic,’ such as the Challenged Ingredients, would not be allowed in a product labeled ‘all natural.’”

He further notes that plaintiff’s failed to plausibly allege a breach of warranty because General Mills didn’t “warrant that Nature Valley Products would be free from trace glyphosate.” Rather, the product’s packaging said they were “Made with 100% Natural Whole Grain Oats.”

“And there is no dispute that the products were made with whole grain oats that, themselves, are ‘100% Natural,’ Davis notes. “Even if the glyphosate traces are present on the oats, there is no allegation that the oats, themselves, are not natural. The packaging does not state that the product, as a whole, is ‘100% Natural.’ ”

In a statement to Consumerist, a spokesperson for General Mills said the company is “pleased with the court’s ruling.”