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Heinz lawsuit spotlights 'all natural' food labels

More than ever, consumers are demanding transparency from food producers. And when they are met with resistance or all-out deception, some of them are taking it to the courts. In the latest of food-label litigation, a woman has filed suit against Heinz over its labeling of white vinegar as “all natural,” a claim the woman says the company simply can’t make.

Vinegar is made by fermenting something with sugar, or other starches that convert to sugar. For Heinz, the beginning product is corn, according to Rodale. And while Heinz doesn’t say that it uses GMO corn, the company doesn’t deny it either. With about 85 percent of the US corn supply being genetically modified, there’s a very good chance GMO corn has made its way into Heinz’s vinegar, making it far from what the average consumer would consider “natural.”

Debbie Banafsheha filed a complaint March 17, accusing the vinegar maker of false marketing and advertisement, according to NaturalNews.

"Defendant's 'all natural' representations are false, deceptive, misleading, and unfair to consumers, who are injured in fact by purchasing products that defendant claims are 'all natural' when in fact they are not," Banafsheha said.

Banafsheha's complaint isn't off the mark. In fact, as I recently reported, a new study from the University of Houston found that consumers are easily swayed into believing a product is healthier for them when it features buzzwords like "natural" and "antioxidants.”

The lawsuit seeks to represent all customers who purchased the white vinegar product in California since March 17, 2000.

“Defendant sources its ingredients from US commodity suppliers who supply GM crops,” reads the complaint. “Large volume food manufacturers who wish to use non-GM ingredients must specifically source their crops, typically from Europe, or undertake the additional step and expense of purchasing and verifying the supply from non-GM growers through the identity preservation programs. In most instances, manufacturers who purchase only non-GM crops for their products specifically label the products non-GMO.”

If the fact that Heinz white vinegar includes GM corn is news to you, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Fleishmann’s and Spectrum are two brands that make organic vinegar, which by USDA certification standards cannot contain genetically modified corn.

Photo credit: Hans