BY CODY BYRE
PepsiCo is the world’s second largest food and beverage company, owning select retail Starbucks drinks, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and Naked. Naked is a fruit smoothie drink that was originally touted as all natural and non-GMO. It was discovered by a consumer, Natalie Pappas, that the all natural claim was false. In 2011, she filed what became a class action lawsuit against Naked Juice Co. The defendant agreed to pay an $11 million settlement.
The informational website created for the lawsuit, under the name Naked Juice Class, provided instructions for consumers: “If you bought an eligible Naked juice product any time from Sep. 27, 2007 to Aug. 19, 2013, you could get up to $75 with proof of purchase, or up to $45 without proof of purchase, from a proposed class action settlement.”
One explanation that PepsiCo had for the misleading label is the FDA’s ambiguity with the words and phrases “natural” and “non-GMO”. In fact, in spite of the findings that Naked contains genetically-modified ingredients, they have been allowed to keep the “non-GMO” part of the label. This is due to looser restrictions on that phrase than that of the word “natural.”
Naked is sold in both the Marketplace, the library building at Evergreen, the Housing Community Center and at Einstein Bros. Bagels, however, a local competitor called Columbia Gorge Organic is sold, and it comes from 100 percent organic ingredients.
Contrary to being 100 percent natural, Naked actually contains 11 chemical additives. These include genetically-modified soy and a sweetener called fructooligosaccharides. One of the largest concerns that journalists and consumers focused on was that Naked contains calcium pantothenate, which is synthetically produced from formaldehyde. If formaldehyde sounds familiar, that is because it is included in a multitude of products, including the chemicals used to embalm dead bodies.
Listed on the Safe Cosmetics organization’s website, formaldehyde is found in “nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, color cosmetics” and is related to health risks including irritation and cancer. However, according to science and health journalist Tara Haelle, formaldehyde has only been found to cause a higher risk of cancer in those who used it over decades at work. In addition, formaldehyde is found in many of the foods we consume, including organic fruits and vegetables. Naked doesn’t even contain actual formaldehyde anyway; just a by-product of it. In spite of multiple news sources inferring so, calcium pantothenate is not bad for you; it is actually vitamin B5.
According to Max Goldberg, a leading organic food expert, the coverage was limited to Parade Magazine, People Magazine, and four times in USA Today, but only in the state of California. In addition to this, PepsiCo donated $2.5 million in opposition of California’s Proposition 37 initiative in 2012, which proposed that genetically-modified organisms would be required to be properly labeled. The proposal failed in a close loss, with 48.6 percent voting in favor. 353,657 more people voted against the proposition than for it. This is similar to Washington state’s Initiative 522, which failed with a very similar margin.
Evergreen junior John Hiller had never tried Naked. He said that he “would not drink it” and that “labels must be kept honest for the safety of all the public.” He was also aware of the label change. Autumn Ogren, a junior, claimed that she was more “turned away because of [the lawsuit] over the chemicals.” Emily Willson and Davis Lockett, both juniors, drank Naked before, but were not aware of the lawsuit. Like Ogren, Willson was most put off by the dishonest labeling. Lockett said he would not be buying Naked anymore, now that he knows it is not all-natural. Andrew Schmokel, a senior, had enjoyed the drink until he heard about the label change, and has since quit drinking it.
In spite of the lawsuit and removal of “natural” from the label, Naked does contain ingredients that are widely considered to be healthy, and perfectly safe for consumption. Most of the ingredients in question were explained by PepsiCo as the “boosts” that were sometimes added and advertised on the containers. One of the artificial ingredients was a safe form of vitamin E, others were forms of vitamin B3, B6, B12. This does not, however, change the fact that not everything in Naked was natural and non-GMO, as advertised.
The aftermath of the lawsuit includes many other brands and products removing “natural” from their labels and advertisements. These include a group of Pepsi products, including Cheetos, Quaker Granola, Frito-Lay Chips, and even a natural Gatorade line that was discontinued. They claim these changes were just routine and not directly in response to the lawsuit. Other companies that have gone through similar lawsuits and/or changes include Ben & Jerry’s, Campbell Soup, Pepperidge Farm, Kashi, Trader Joe’s, and Target.