The San Diego-based cereal maker Kashi is a topic of discussion among consumers this week after a blogger on the Green It All website pointed out that some of its products contain genetically-modified ingredients.
That information isn’t news to people in the natural-foods industry, but it’s just now making the rounds of social media, inspiring 171 comments on Kashi’s Facebook page this week. Earlier this year, most of the company’s products were pulled off at least one grocery store’s shelves. And for the past two years, San Diego-based natural grocer Jimbo’s hasn’t accepted new Kashi products because of concerns about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.
A spokeswoman for Kashi, which has headquarters in La Jolla, declined to respond Tuesday to emailed and telephoned requests for comment. Kashi recently joined the Non-GMO project and hadseven products verified as Non-GMO: 7 Whole Grain Flakes, 7 Whole Grain Pilaf, 7 Whole Grain Puffs, Autumn Wheat, Cinnamon Harvest, Island Vanilla and Strawberry Fields.
Kashi, known for its high-protein cereal and other packaged food products, got its start in 1984 with a “breakfast pilaf” and went on to become a recognized name in whole grain nutrition. It was acquired by the country’s largest breakfast-cereal maker, Kellogg, in 2000, but emphasizes its independent roots. From its website: “We are a small (after 25 years, still fewer than 70 of us) band of passionate people who believe right down to our bones that everyone has the power to make positive changes in their lives.”
Based on testing, some of Kashi’s products contain GMOs and chemically processed soy, according to an October 2011 report on cereal brands by the Cornucopia Institute, a tax-exempt public interest group that supports sustainable and organic agriculture. The report contends that “natural” claims are basically meaningless. Those claims confuse consumers and undermine the regulated “organic” label, the report said. From the report:
Numerous “natural” products were indeed contaminated with high levels of GE ingredients, sometimes as high as 100%: Kashi® GoLean®, Mother’s® Bumpers®, Nutritious Living® Hi-Lo®, and General Mills Kix… Several Bear Naked® and Kashi® products contain hexane-extracted soy protein. The “hexane bath” that the soybeans are immersed in consists of more than 50% n-hexane, which is a known neurotoxin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The spokeswoman for Kashi declined to respond to those statements from the report, but the company posted this statement Monday on its Facebook page: “We’re committed to providing food you’re proud to share with your family. We believe the credible way to provide information about GMOs is through USDA Organic certification and Non-GMO Project Verification.”
Based on that report, the Green Grocer in Portsmouth, R.I. pulled Kashi and three other brands from its shelves early this year, said co-owner John Wood. He said that before making that decision, he reached out to Kashi and asked about its plans regarding genetically-modified ingredients. “The woman I spoke with told me that there was not enough organic grain in supply to meet the company’s needs,” Wood said. “So based on the report and Kashi’s response, it was clear that it didn’t meet our store’s standards and we removed the product.”
San Diego’s major natural food chains – Sprouts and Jimbo’s – still carry Kashi products, although some don’t conform to Jimbo’s 2-year-old GMO policy. Jimbo’s didn’t remove any products from its shelves, opting to “grandfather” many products it already carried – including Kashi cereals such as Good Friends – but it won’t add new products that don’t meet its rules, said buyer Andy Huth.
“We think it’s important to give manufacturers a chance to adjust their manufacturing to use different ingredients, and they can’t do that overnight,” Huth said. “Over time, more and more of the products that meet our standards displace those that don’t.”
This isn’t the first time that Kashi has faced criticism for marketing itself as a “natural” company. On August 31, 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed against Kellogg/Kashi for allegedly misleading consumers with its “natural” claims. The plaintiff said that GoLean Shakes, for example, is composed almost entirely of synthetic and unnaturally processed ingredients.
The spokeswoman for Kashi declined to comment on the lawsuit.