The Hormel food company recently won its request to have a lawsuit filed against it dismissed. However, the dismissal did not come before any damage was done. As a result of the lawsuit, consumers are now fully aware of what Hormel products contain and what they believed to be “all natural” are anything but.
It’s no secret that consumers are opting for healthier products. Sales of products advertised as environmentally friendly and cruelty-free have risen in recent years. Studies show approximately 40 percent of shoppers say they look for labels that claim products are “all natural” when making meat selections. As a result of the increase in conscientious shopping, in 2017 Kraft removed all added nitrates, nitrites, and artificial preservatives from its Oscar Mayer brand hot dogs.
Unfortunately, what consumers believe to be healthier products that are better all-around are essentially the same products they’ve always been buying. This is due, in part, to the fact that marketing restrictions set by the government on the meat and poultry industry are so liberal.
“Natural” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be in Food Marketing
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the term “natural” simply means a product needs to be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. It can, however, still contain hormones, preservatives, and antibiotics.
In some cases, food manufacturing giants including Hormel have purchased smaller companies that produce organic foods. Many of these companies already have a following from consumers. In other cases, consumers purchase these products, now available at a lower price, thinking they are buying a healthier alternative to Hormel’s standard products when in reality they are getting something manufactured in essentially the same way as all other standard Hormel products.
Additionally, many of the well-known food giants are offering their own lines of “natural” products with appealing imagery intended to lure health-conscious consumers.
Many see companies as bending claims and misleading consumers. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a claim with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia that alleged Hormel was misleading consumers with its advertising claims.
The court dismissed the claim, stating that as long as labels claiming a product is natural have received approval from the USDA, manufacturers are free to use the term “natural” in all advertising materials.
Ingredients in Hormel Products Exposed as a Result of the Lawsuit
As a result of the claim, Hormel was forced to reveal in documents it submitted to the court how it makes its line of Natural Choice products. According to statements in the documents made by a company executive, the Natural Choice line contains the same pigs used to make SPAM, a non-natural product. The pigs used had received antibiotics and are rarely given time outdoors. The company also acknowledged that cows and turkeys used in the Natural Choice line of products also receive antibiotics and hormones.
In addition to antibiotics and hormones, many Natural Choice products contain lactic acid starter, which is a bacterial culture. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest bacterial cultures convert nitrates into sodium nitrite and work as a meat preservative. The center warns consumption of lactic acid starter and sodium nitrate should be avoided because studies have linked it to cancer in children and pregnant women.
According to a food project attorney with Public Justice who serves as lead attorney for the ALDF, the use of the term “natural” is manipulation and an attempt to “dupe the consumer.”
Hormel responded by saying its products are produced, labeled, and marketed in according with applicable laws and regulations. The company’s marketing director acknowledged that many customers believe “natural” means that a product contains no antibiotics. Court documents also revealed that employees of the company are aware they are misleading consumers and have called into question whether their employer’s marketing practices are intentionally misleading consumers.
Others familiar with the case but not employed by Hormel call the marketing practices unethical and state they believe that Hormel is intentionally misleading consumers with its use of words.
Despite the revelation and accusations of unethical practices, Hormel stands behind its line of Natural Choice products, boasting that they are minimally processed and contain no “artificial ingredients or chemical preservatives.”