Is This Healthy or Not?

by mediaethics15 on April 7, 2015 - 2:53pm

Achieving a health conscious diet has been increasingly popular over the last decade. People have been more critical of what foods they have been eating. A substantial amount of companies have been promoting their products to be healthy and high in nutrients and vitamins. They are defining their products as “all natural”; when in reality the ingredients in these products do not make an appropriate fit for their definition.  This was the case for Kashi, a company (owned by Kellogg’s) that is branded as “healthy” which sells cereals, granola bars and crackers.

Kashi has recently agreed to remove labels such as “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from the packages of their products. They have been misleading their consumers to believe that all their products consist of 100% natural ingredients. Most of Kashi’s products contain artificial ingredients such as pyridoxine hydrochloride and calcium pantothenate. Additionally they are composed of soy oil, which is processed using hexane. Hexane is an “industrial solvent that’s also found in gasoline” (Blackmore). Nonetheless, what foods can be defined as “natural”?

The United States Food and Drug Association (FDA) has no clear definition of the term “natural”. They explain that the food has most probably been processed and due to this, it is not an unchanged or not an original product from the earth. The FDA allows all companies to label their products as “natural” as long as they do “not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances” (About FDA).

Kashi did not follow the FDA’s simple guidelines and was forced to remove their “all-natural” labels. Furthermore, they have settled to compensate $5 million dollars worth to California consumers who purchased Kashi products since August 2007. With proof of payment, they will receive 50 cents per box that was purchased.  

Kashi has resolved this issue through the justice system and one would believe that they would no longer mislead their consumers. However, since they have agreed not to promote their brand as “all-natural” on their product boxes, they have turned to social media to do so. On their Facebook Page, they describe the company’s mission is to “dream of healthy living for all” and that their “approach to progressive nutrition comes from real ingredients still inspires the foods we [they] make”. They are still misleading the consumer to believe that all their products contain no artificial ingredients and are 100% healthy. Kashi found a synonym for “all-natural” and replaced it with “real ingredients”. At first glance, the consumer will not be able to identify the difference. They are misled to still believe that Kashi goods are organically produced.  In addition, Kashi discloses on Facebook that their products are “all natural cereals, snacks, entrees and waffles”. They were recently forced by law to modify their labels. How are they morally and lawfully allowed to describe their product misleadingly on social media? The media is the largest source of information for consumers. Consumers will be deceived by Kashi’s description on social media.

It is evident that this is an ethical issue in need of a solution. Solutions must be found in order to put these moral issues at rest. A possible way of resolving this is by providing better education on nutrition labels to the population. We must show consumers how to critically read the labels of the products they purchase. Consequently, consumers will be able to understand what ingredients are nourishing and suitable for them. They must be taught to avoid the catchy slogans and advertisements on the boxes of food products and in the media. As seen with Kashi, the appealing labels misrepresent the product. If consumers have the desire to be health conscious, they should read the ingredients carefully and avoid buying products that contain artificial ingredients.

Another approach to solving this moral issue is by regulation and reform. The government must be involved towards changing the amount of misleading advertisements for food products. They should be active supporters in reducing advertisements that deceive their population. The FDA should be able to come up with a specific and descriptive definition of the word “natural”. By doing this, advertisers and marketers will not be able to abuse the word. Furthermore, those who misconceive the word should be punished more drastically. In the case of Kashi, only consumers from California were compensated. Consumers from all over North America saw Kashi’s false descriptions and labels and these people were not repaid for Kashi’s misconduct. Courts and legislations must be able to serve justice appropriately.

These solutions fit well with the deontological moral perspective. Deontology argues that morals are defined by universal rules. If these rules are put into practice, no matter what the outcome, one is behaving ethically (Merril). It is a universal rule for companies to describe their products honestly. People must be given accurate information about the products they purchase. Although this might lead to less sales and profits for the company (the outcome of being truthful), the consumer should not be misled.

Another theory that supports these possible solutions is utilitarianism. Bentham explains, “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong” (Merril). If laws and legislation concerning food labels were stricter, then consumers (the greatest number) would be less deceived. In Kashi’s case, they would have to compensate all North Americans for misleading them. The good for the greater population is what’s significant, not large profits for Kashi. Therefore, misleading labels and advertisements must be regulated. Moreover, The FDA should make up a proper definition of the term “natural”. One that is specific and concise. This would benefit the greater number because there would be less confusion relating to labels. The consumers would not have to be worried about being misled.

In conclusion, all of these resolutions would be potentially beneficial to society. It is evident that misleading advertisements are moral issues because they are dishonestly shaping people’s perception of products. This must be addressed through both education and regulation.

 

Works Cited

“About FDA.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. <http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transp arency/basics/ucm214868.htm>

Blackmore, Willy. “Kashi May Be Healthy but It’s Not ‘All Natural’ Anymore.” Takepart, 10 May. 2010. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. <http://www.takepart.com/articl e/2014/05/10/kashi-natural-lawsuit>

Merril, J.  “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics.” Media Ethics 345-LPH-MS. Ed. Sarah Waurechen. Montreal: Eastman, 2015. 25-36. Print.

https://www.facebook.com/kashi/info?tab=page_info

Comments

I totally agree with you. People are not reading the ingredients and believe all what they see on the packages even if it is not true. The only way to know the truth is in reading the ingredients. They believe they are healthy because they choose a certain brand of products, but in fact, it is totally the opposite and they do not even know what they eat. The same problem happens with the fast food companies. They promote their food as being healthy, but in fact, the food is not healthy at all. It is full of preservatives and it is almost all prepared in advance with ingredients that we do not really know. As well, we always have to keep in mind that those companies only want to make money and they don’t mind about our health. I found an interesting website that shows what is behind some popular brands or fast food restaurants. I promise you will never see them in the same way! Here is the link if you want to look at it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/20/fast-food-truths_n_4296243.html .

Hello mediaethics15, I appreciate your thoughtful solutions to the problem. I liked particularly your ending sentence proposing that the issue has to be addressed through education and regulation. It is clear that informed citizens and responsible private corporations are both needed in protecting the public’s health. But I can also see why the government and the media haven’t yet and are unlikely going to make informing the public their priority. After all, we are talking about billions of dollar of food advertisement, huge amount of income tax on private corporations and also the increasing demand for expedient solutions (drugs) for long-term health issues. If you’d like to explore about the issue on food advertisement and its impact on economy I have a link for your exploration.
Link to article: http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib310132/app_a-economic_impac...