The Dark Side of Your Breakfast Bowl: Unmasking the Truth Behind “Natural” Cereals

If you thought the all-natural breakfast cereal you ate this morning was either healthy or natural, think again before you pick up your spoon. So-called “natural” cereals may be contaminated with toxic agricultural chemicals and contain genetically engineered organisms. Even though food chains like Whole Foods Market® may carry cereals labeled as all-natural, only foods labeled as organic are manufactured according to higher standards that help protect your health. The “natural” label is a deception.

Marketing Hype

Soothing pictures on cereal boxes and heartwarming slogans may make for good marketing, but they don’t guarantee the purity of ingredients. On October 12, 2011, the organic industry watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, reported on the trust-altering truth. It made public the deceitful marketing campaigns waged by some of the Nation’s largest manufacturers of breakfast cereal. The report, titled “Cereal Crimes: How ‘Natural’ Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label — A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle,” found Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, and Barbara’s Bakery are selling cereals contaminated with toxic agrichemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMO) which they promote as “natural.”

When a natural food store chain like Whole Foods — whose entire ethos is wrapped around wellness, wholeness, sustainable agriculture, and organic living — is found to be colluding with abusive and lying mainstream food companies to peddle unhealthy and disease-producing products as natural food, not only is it disheartening, it is an egregious betrayal of trust.


How are such companies able to get away with this kind of deceit? It turns out, while there are strict regulations about what can be labeled as “organic,” there are no restrictions on what can be called “natural.” So, while a breakfast cereal or granola product promoted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “certified organic” label must, legally and verifiably, be organic, those claiming “natural” and “all-natural” are neither vetted in the same way nor held to the same marketing restrictions.

Thus, so-called “natural” products may be grown and processed using the conventional agricultural methods strictly opposed by those who want to eat whole, organic foods. These methods include the use of petrochemical-based fertilizers, sewage sludge, synthetic (toxic) pesticides, and GMO crops.

With the sustained downturn of the economy and entire nations on the verge of bankruptcy, it’s no wonder companies are doing whatever they can to maintain profits. This may mean putting deceptive spins on their advertising claims, using unregulated terms in their marketing language and just out-and-out lying. Most upsetting are bait-and-switch tactics generally used in marketing campaigns. These lure consumers in with anti-toxic slogans, green language, and organic claims but then, before consumers recognize a shift, swap out organic ingredients for conventional ones and make subtle but barely noticeable changes in packaging. Consumers continue to buy the changed product (that may have once been organic), consuming it by habit and relying on brand loyalty that is no longer based on fact. These practices represent abuses of consumer trust.


The worst part is that people who associate with certain brands and shop at specific (and often more expensive) stores do so because they believe the marketing hype convincing them that products, manufacturers, and retailers are aligned with their worldview. The core factor at the heart of these consumer choices is the desire to eat healthy, green, and organic while supporting family farms. But the “Cereal Crimes” report shows that marketers are using the equivalent of smoke and mirrors to sell products that don’t meet these standards. Fellow conspirators in this scheme seem to be companies like Whole Foods and Quaker Oats.

This kind of misleading marketing and branding of cereal products can lead people down the road of poor health and disease. And the organophosphate pesticides (originally developed in World War II) used on these foods not only kill insects in farmers’ fields but are, in fact, harmful to our children. Studies have shown them to play a role in developmental disorders, ADHD, short-term memory issues, and delayed motor skills. With all those negative effects, perhaps we need the USDA to slap disclaimers on cereal boxes as it does for cigarettes.


According to the Cornucopia report, “USDA testing has found residues of organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos and malathion on corn, soy, wheat flour, and oats, which are all common ingredients in breakfast cereals. In the case of wheat flour, residues were found in more than 60% of samples.”

With the help of an independent, accredited laboratory, The Cornucopia Institute put dozens of so-called natural breakfast cereal and granola brands to the test, looking for potentially harmful contamination. The results weren’t pretty.

“‘Natural’ cereals from brands including Kashi (owned by Kellogg’s), Mother’s (owned by PepsiCo), Nutritious Living, Barbara’s Bakery (owned by Weetabix), and 365 (owned by Whole Foods Market) contained high levels of genetically engineered ingredients (all above 28%, some as high as 100%) — even though a number of these companies represent their products as ‘non-GMO’ to the public.”

Know What You Eat

It is important to know what you are buying and eating, especially when food products labeled organic and natural generally cost more than the rest. The results of this important “Cereal Crimes” report show that not only are we being robbed of our cash, but also our health and trust. To make the report results easily accessible, a product scorecard is included with it that rates the products from best (organic) to worst (potentially disease producing). Empower your food choices by reading the full report and purchasing only those brands that made the top section of the scorecard.