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Walk through your local grocery store these days and you'll see the words "all natural” emblazoned on a variety of food packages. The label is lucrative, for sure, but in discussing the natural label few have remarked on what's really at stake—the natural ingredients and the companies themselves.
If you take a look at some of the favorite organic and natural food brands, you'll see they're owned by some of the largest conventional companies in the world. Coca-Cola owns Odwalla and Honest Tea. PepsiCo owns Naked Juice. General Mills owns Lara Bar. Natural and organic food acquisitions aside, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Mills all opposed California's GMO Proposition 37 that would require GMO (genetically modified organism) food labeling. Today, some of those companies touting an all-natural list of grains and sugars can be seen changing the ingredients in their natural food products as the natural foods' distribution channels are pushed to larger and larger markets.
Recently, in a class action consumer-fraud lawsuit, Kashi agreed it would stop using “all natural” and “nothing artificial” for its line of cereal products, which, according to plaintiffs, contained unnatural ingredients like pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with hexane, a byproduct of gasoline refining in its line.
Kashi’s use of “natural” ingredients wasn’t in question in 1999 when it made nearly $25 million in sales. But in 2000 Kellogg's purchased Kashi and less than a decade later it was the No. 1 natural foods brand making nearly $600 million in sales. The rise in class-action lawsuits against the "natural" label comes in part because brands like Kashi have ballooned in sales—in other words, there's no money to be found in a smaller, natural company. Yet Kashi rose to the top while continuing to tout its "all natural" ideology of which David DeSouza, Kashi's former general manager (a defendant in the case and formerly with Kellogg's for 19 years prior to joining Kashi), was so fond.
As part of the settlement for its use of unnatural ingredients, Kellogg's is creating a $5 million settlement fund for California customers who purchased the products containing the specific ingredients.
Natural food buyouts have become second nature to the food industry as companies like Kellogg's continue to diversify their portfolios and latch on to the popularity of natural and organic foods. And while a downgrade of some ingredients is one thing in some cases, companies have undergone a complete 180 from using organic and natural ingredients by opting for conventional or GMO ones.
When Brendan Synott and Kelly Flately started Bear Naked, they hand-packed granola and distributed it to bed-and-breakfasts themselves. Kellogg's purchased Bear Naked in a $122 million deal and it soon became apparent that its Kashi products were no longer as natural as its humble beginning. Kellogg's agreed to remove “100% natural” and “100% pure and natural” from its Bear Naked labels in a suit similar to Kashi, which faulted its ingredients. Kellogg's eventually settled for $325,000.
Still, when Kashi was criticized by the Cornucopia Institute for its use of GMO ingredients in April 2012, Kashi released a statement complaining about the organic food supply, writing: "A major challenge we face in North America is that over 80% of many crops, including soy, are grown using GMOs." It added: " Given the fact that only 0.7% of US cropland is organic, it’s unfortunate that Cornucopia failed to recognize Kashi’s significant contribution to supporting organic agriculture and our ability to impact future change."
Kashi's case is not unique. In 2010 the Center for Science in the Public Interest reported that Ben & Jerry's was hardly an all-natural ice cream and found that 48 of its 53 flavors were unnatural, with ingredients like "alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil or other ingredients that either don’t exist in nature or that have been chemically modified." Ben & Jerry's was bought by the multinational consumer goods company Unilever in 2000. Just two years later in 2002 CSPI warned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about Ben & Jerry's false representation of the term "all natural."
Like Ben & Jerry's, Silk was once a leading brand for organic milk, but today no longer carries the organic label after being purchased by White Wave, a spinoff of Dean Foods. "They introduced the first non-organic product within the Horizon label," said Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute.
After Hearthside Food Solutions (a division of Post) acquired Peace Cereal in May 2010, their ingredients did a dramatic shift, from organic to conventional. Kastel reported that before 2008 "all Peace Cereal products were certified organic," but today, "none are." Even with the swap, Peace Cereal kept their higher, organic prices.
Currently Silk has four organic soymilks in its lineup. Peace Cereal now includes a mix of organic and non-organic products. Four of their 19 cereals are certified organic.
Similarly, Solera Capital acquired a majority interest in Annie's Homegrown in 2002. But by 2007, only one in five of Annie's Homegrown products were certified organic, down from at least 70 percent organic. If you looked at Annie's Homegrown marketing, you'd still think its iconic bunny-branded macaroni and cheese is made in Annie's red barn. Instead, CEO John Foraker wants to take Annie's out of "those little, dust-covered aisles" and put it next to brands like Kraft Foods Inc.
Some would argue that shelf placement matters little and bringing organic foods out front is a good thing. That may be true but competing with companies like Kraft Inc. will mean taking a product that was formerly niche (e.g. organic or natural) and making it more like its mainstream competitors (i.e. not organic or natural).
Phil Howard, a Michigan State University professor and expert on the organic food systems said the trend to replace ingredients after buyouts is fairly common. "Natural is vague enough that it is easier to maintain this claim while still using increasingly cheaper ingredients," he wrote in an email. In fact, when Kashi was outed for its GMO ingredients, DeSouza admitted that because the FDA does not define "natural," they did nothing wrong.
In what's become a popular graphic of consolidation, Howard created a map of the top 100 food processors in America and their organic and natural food company acquisitions. In just a little over a decade, the natural food industry has come to look more and more like its conventional counterpart and the "all natural" label continues to be little more than a marketing gimmick. The "natural" label holds nearly $40 billion in purchasing power. Meanwhile natural foods continue to grow, reaching $110 billion sales in 2013.
Some companies have remained tied to their natural roots, including Nature's Path who continues to charge less for their organic cereal than Kellogg's and still operates independently. "You have to take that information and say well, Kellogg's is grossly profiteering at the expense of consumer goodwill," says Kastel. "But Nature's Path is a pretty big company and they've never lost track of the story behind their label."
After lawsuits like Kashi's, companies entering into the natural foods market are choosing to leave the “all natural” label behind as the term is in limbo for consumers and food marketers. If they continue to grow (and they will) they face the possibility of being bought out. So who's to say natural ingredients will remain on the front packaging or more importantly, on the inside?
This article has been updated.
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By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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