Nature Valley granola bars are marketed as "natural," but the merit of that claim is crumbling faster than the notoriously crumbly snack food itself.
A new series of lawsuits against General Mills, the manufacturer of Nature Valley granola bars, alleges that the beloved bars, which claim to have "100% natural oats" are misleading because the oats contain a common pesticide called glyphosate, Bloomberg reported. The amount of pesticide is scant, however: The lawsuit states the products contain 0.45 parts per million of glyphosate.
So is glyphosate safe?
The jury is still out. Some people and organizations (like the Organic Consumers Association) believe the substance may be a carcinogenic, or something that can cause cancer. Others say that glyphosate is harmless to humans.
In May, the WHO and the United Nations released a report stating that "glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet." The Environmental Protection Agency published an 86-page report saying glyphosate was safe for humans, but then pulled it this June, Reuters reported. (The EPA told Reuters the reason for the move is that its assessment was not final.)
Still, not everyone is convinced about the safety of the pesticide. "Food grown with dangerous pesticides like glyphosate isn't natural. Consumers understand this," Alexis Baden-Mayer, the political director for the Organic Consumer's Association, one of the non-profits suing General Mills, told Beyond Organics. "That's why sales of natural products are booming."
This isn't the first time General Mills has faced a lawsuit over its use of the word "natural." In 2012, two mothers in California filed a lawsuit alleging that Nature Valley's packaging featured false claims, the New York Times reported. The labels said the bars were 100% percent natural but the ingredient list featured substances like high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin, a thickening agent.
In a separate class-action lawsuit (which was settled in 2014), General Mills agreed to strike the phrase "100% natural" from its packaging, Food Navigator noted.
Getting upset over words is a hot new food trend, and for good reason. Food labels are confusing.
In June 2015, KIND bars came under fire from the USDA for using the word "healthy," Mic previously reported. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can seriously hurt a business' bottom line — consumers are willing to pay more for foods labeled with words like "healthy" and "natural," Mic reported.
Perhaps the current lawsuit will compel General Mills to clean up their labels (or at least their oat sourcing), but it doesn't seem likely. "We stand behind our products and the accuracy of our labels," a General Mills spokesperson said in an email to Mic.