In many American families, a canister of Quaker Oats oatmeal is a pantry staple. After all, oatmeal is a quick, easy, and nutritious breakfast choice, beloved by kids and adults alike. And for more than a century and a half, that beloved Quaker on the package has communicated kindness and trust to shoppers.
But in a shocking turn of events, the PepsiCo-owned company’s honesty is being called into question in a class-action lawsuit in New York State and California that centers around two words on the packaging: “100% Natural.” The suit asserts that the claim amounts to false advertising, given that scientists have found traces of glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto’s weed-killer RoundUp and a known carcinogen—in some oats.
The levels of glyphosate were well within the limits deemed safe for consumption by the Environmental Protection Agency, Quaker said in a statement, but the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the issue was not with the glyphosate at all.
“The issue is that Quaker advertises these products as 100 percent natural, and glyphosate in any amount is not natural,” Kim Richman, the lead lawyer of the firm representing the plaintiffs, told The New York Times.
It was only a matter of time before we saw a lawsuit of this kind. Claims on food labels are notoriously dubious, and many of them don't mean what consumers believe they do, and the “natural” label is the worst offender. Most consumers (59 percent, in fact) believe “100-percent natural” means, basically, organic—derived only from ingredients found in nature. Not so.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't have any definition for “natural” or related descriptions, meaning Quaker and other companies are using the label in a free-wheeling fashion with absolutely nothing backing it up.
In the case of the Quaker lawsuit, some lawyers are already saying it will be an uphill battle for the plaintiffs in the case. David L. Ter Molen, a partner in the Chicago offices of Freeborn & Peters LLP, predicted that PepsiCo will try to have the case dismissed, because “as a matter of law, no reasonable consumer would understand such products to be entirely devoid of trace amounts of pesticides where such levels are well below legally permitted thresholds.”
In truth, the only food label that accurately conveys an absence of chemicals and pesticides is the USDA Certified Organic label. To earn it, food makers are prohibited from using genetically modified organisms, and they have to ensure 95 percent of ingredients adhere to organic standards.
So if you're looking to keep glyphosate and other pesticides out of your oatmeal, make sure you're choosing a certified organic variety.
Photo credit: Nataša Mandić via Stocksy