The Cornucopia Institute has published a report titled “Cereal Crimes: How ‘Natural’ Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label—A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle.” Noting that, with one exception, no government agency has defined what the term “natural” means on food packages, the organization explains how companies that make cereal products exploit consumer confusion over the difference between “organic” and “natural” products, charging a premium for “natural” products that actually contain ingredients containing pesticides or ingredients grown and processed with genetically engineered (GE) organisms.

The report, accompanied by an “online scorecard with nearly 50 cereal and granola brands, available on the Cornucopia website,” (i) details current legal requirements that distinguish organic from “natural” claims; (ii) discusses individual company definitions of “natural” to demonstrate “how vastly different they can be”; (iii) summarizes the results of consumer polling showing that many “erroneously believe that the ‘natural’ label has merit, such as signifying that the food is free of pesticides and genetically engineered ingredients”; (iv) reveals how “natural” companies intentionally blur the distinction between their products and organic products; (v) names the companies that offer certified organic product lines and those that used to but no longer do after purchase by large food corporations; (vi) addresses product pricing indicating that “natural” products, which are conventionally produced and processed, are often “priced at a premium, closer to organic prices”; (vii) asserts that “natural” company practices are undercutting organic farmers; (viii) describes environmental-impact differences between organic and conventional farming methods; and (ix) shows how consumers wishing to avoid GE products would do best to avoid certain “natural” brands found to contain, on the basis of laboratory testing, 50-100 percent GE ingredients. The report also includes a summary of studies suggesting that GE ingredients and pesticides pose purported risks to health.

The Cornucopia Institute, which promotes sustainable and organic agriculture, concludes by calling on “natural” breakfast cereal companies “to become organic as a service to their customers.” According to the institute, “consumers care about claims such as ‘no pesticides’ and ‘no GMOs.’ The only way to assure this is by being certified organic. ‘Natural’ claims may be profitable, but they are misleading and disingenuous unless the product is certified organic.”