When you eat "natural" food, you're probably not betting on biting into controversial genetically engineered ingredients and harmful pesticide residues. But all too often, "natural" cereal is anything but, and is loaded with toxic and untested ingredients that have been linked to a rising rates of ADHD, autism, infertility, and food allergies. A 2011 report found a popular Kashi GOLEAN cereal was loaded with GMOs, and now the company is making moves to clean up its act.
Kashi's new initiative outlines a plan to increase the use of organic and Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients, promising that all new Kashi foods introduced onto the market will contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and will also be Non-GMO Project Verified, by 2015. As it stands, seven Kashi foods are already Non-GMO Verified: Autumn Wheat Cinnamon Harvest, Island Vanilla, Strawberry Fields, 7 Whole Grain Flakes, 7 Whole Grain Puffs, and 7 Whole Grain Pilaf. The company's Simply Maize and Indigo Morning cereals are currently in the process of being Non-GMO Project Verified, and by the end of 2014, Kashi says all existing GOLEAN cereals and Chewy Granola Bars will be Non-GMO Verified, as well. The company currently offers several organic cereals and is owned by Kellogg Company.
The company stresses that it never used harmful ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, along with the fact that it sources more than 35 million pounds of organic ingredients annually, supporting nearly 10,000 acres of organic cropland.
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Genetically engineered ingredients have infiltrated the food system, even though they've never been tested for long-term impact on human health. Some scientists have linked GMOs in food to a drastic spike in food allergies, accelerated aging, infertility, and digestive problems. Although at least 70 percent of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, there's no law in the U.S. that requires food manufacturers to label GMO ingredients in food.
GMOs are banned in organic agriculture, although some cross-contamination may occur when chemical farmers plant GMO crops near organic fields. Non-GMO Project Verification performs testing to ensure that products are made without intentional use of GMO ingredients, although this label alone doesn't ban the use of pesticides the way organic certification does.
Kashi's late-April announcement came at about the same time a small Rhode Island natural food store's Kashi display sign went viral on the web. The sign explained the owners' decision to remove Kashi items from store shelves because of the 2011 Cornucopia Institute Cereal Crimes report that found high levels of GMOs in many "natural" cereals.
John Wood, owner of the Green Grocer in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, said he didn't want to just pull the product without explanation, so he decided to post a sign explaining that some Kashi products labeled as "natural" contained genetically engineered ingredients. "After reading the Cereal Crimes report, it became clear that things we believed were quality products weren't even meeting the minimum guidelines for what we wanted on store shelves," Wood said, who notes that the store did start carrying the certified-organic Kashi brands.
While he said Kashi's recent announcement to go the non-GMO route has been years in the making—not a direct result of his store sign—he is delighted his sign created a conversation about the term natural, GMOs, and the food system.
Certain states, including California, are taking steps to labels GMOs in food. Until that happens on a national scale, your best bet is to choose organic products and to cut back on processed, nonorganic foods. Corn and soy are among the most common GMO crops in America, and many processed foods use corn- and soy-derived ingredients under various ingredient names.