You might call it a tempest in a cereal bowl. Green consumers are feeling betrayed following reports of genetically-modified grains (GMO) and pesticide residues in Kashi cereal products.
Kashi, a division of Kellogg's, has a hugely loyal following among the Birkenstock set and its products can be found lining the shelves of Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and nearly every other organically-aware store.
Except, that is for the Green Grocer, a Portsmouth, R.I., store that cleared its shelves of Kashi products and posted a sign quoting a report, Cereal Crimes, by The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit advocacy group, that alleged that Kashi and some other cereals packaged as "natural" nevertheless contain genetically-modified grains and pesiticide residues.
The explosion of consumer outrage is still echoing around the blogosphere and social media.
Lost all faith
Photo"I have lost all faith in Kellogg's and the food industry in general," said Joe of Westerly, R.I., in a ConsumerAffairs posting.
As images of the Green Grocer sign spread across the Web, one Facebook page collected more than 11,000 "shares" and angry consumers began calling and writing Kashi and posting comments on the company's Facebook page expressing their outrage at being misled by the company's marketing spin.
"Had I known I was buying a product that was like all the others in the "normal" cereal aisle....I would have never purchased it and I certainly would not have paid the high prices!!!!! It disgusts me," wrote one consumer, on Kashi's Facebook page.
Kashi's response has been tepid at best. It has issued nothing on its media relations page, cited no expert opinion and so far put forth no top executives to defend the company.
In a posting on its Facebook page, Kashi says seven of its products are certified by the USDA as organic.
"We believe the credible way to provide information about GMOs is through USDA Organic certification and Non-GMO Project Verification. On store shelves now you can find seven of our foods with Non-GMO Project Verification, several others are USDA Organic certified and many more that contain organic ingredients," the company's statement said.
Also on its Facebook page, a person identified only as "Keegan," who says she is a nutritionist, discusses the "inaccurate information being circulated online" stumbling haltingly through an obviously-scripted video. She does not cite any academic credentials other than to claim to be a nutritionist.
In the video, the person who calls herself Keegan concedes that some Kashi products may contain GMOs but basically says it is not the company's fault, since so much of the grain grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. She said the company has a "longstanding commitment" to producing organic foods and repeats the assetion that seven products are now certified organic.
As for pesticide residues, Keegan says in the video that all Kashi products meet USDA guidelines.
Keegan claims the information being circulated is "inaccurate and misleading" because, she says, it was not based on actual testing of Kashi products but was instead USDA data.
"This characterization of our work by Kashi is blatantly false," said Will Fantle, Cornucopia's Research Director. "We purchased a readily available box of Kashi's GoLean cereal from a Whole Foods store. We then sent a sample to an accredited national lab for testing, finding that the soy in the natural cereal was 100% GMO."
"Committed organic companies that source wholesome ingredients free from synthetic pesticides and GMOs are competing in the marketplace with giant multinationals such as Kraft Foods (Back to Nature), Pepsico (Mother's) and Kellogg's (Bear Naked/Kashi) and their misleading natural marketing claims," said Fantle. "When marketers intentionally mislead consumers with their "natural' products, they are taking business away from those companies providing truly safe and healthy food and supporting certified organic farmers."
"We hope that companies like Kashi, marketing what they call natural foods, will instead choose to meet their consumers' expectations by sourcing truly organic ingredients," Fantle added.
Below is a short video provided by Cornucopia. The Kashi video featuring "Keegan" does not contain the embed code or permissions required to display it here.