Kellogg's: Potential for Injury, Illness and Death is a Cost of Doing Business

Since March 30, when Kellogg’s quietly disclosed they would begin adding peanut flour to crackers, we at have been inundated with questions by a concerned public. In this post, we’ll address the three that dominate the discussion by far.

How can Kellogg’s put people at risk like this… aren’t they concerned about being sued?

For the answer to this, we need look no further than Kellogg’s 2015 Annual Report to shareholders, published this January. Page 9, paragraph 4 states the company’s perspective very clearly:

[…] We may also be liable if the consumption of any of our products causes injury, illness or death. A 
widespread product recall or market withdrawal could result in significant losses due to their costs, the destruction of product inventory, and lost sales due to the unavailability of product for a period of time. We could also suffer losses from a significant product liability judgment against us. A significant product recall or product liability case could also result in adverse publicity, damage to our reputation, and a loss of consumer confidence in our food products, which could have a material adverse effect on our business results and the value of our brands.

In other words, the Kellogg Company is very aware their business decisions – like this one to add peanuts to snacks – could result in “injury, illness or death”. But these are simply risk factors in a much larger calculation that affords little consideration of the human cost beyond how an adverse event might tarnish their reputation.

Implicit in their decision is that the company – having weighed the risks and rewards – has determined that adding peanut flour will benefit the stockholders despite the potential injury it might cause to their allergic consumers.

Why is Kellogg’s adding peanut flour in the first place?

Kellogg’s won’t say, except to double down and assure us that they needed to make this ingredient change and that it was a very hard decision for them.

There are three reasons to add peanut flour to existing products: (1) to increase the protein content, (2) to decrease the carb content, and (3) to make the product more cheaply by substituting peanuts for wheat. In a recent message from the company, Kellogg’s rules out (1) by insisting the decision was not made to increase the protein content of their products:

Hello Mr. Bloom,

Thank you for your message and for sharing your perspective with us.

Food safety is of the utmost importance to Kellogg and we take your comments and concerns very seriously.

The ingredient change on the eight varieties that we previously communicated was made because of modifications to our manufacturing process, and not in an attempt to raise the protein level of any product, as you suggest in your blog post. In fact, the protein content will not be impacted by the ingredient change.

As we said in our letter to parents, this decision wasn’t easy, and we are committed to looking at ways to provide more sandwich crackers made without peanut ingredients in the future.

Thank you, again, for your email.

Once again, the company adopts an extremely patronizing tone but refuses to answer the very simple straightforward question at the crux of this issue: WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?

If Kellogg’s indeed had some altruistic reason for making this radical change to venerable products, they would have explained their decision in a press release instead of surreptitiously burying their disclosure on the interior page of a food allergy advocacy’s site.

Our response to Kellogg’s does little to belie our frustration with the company’s continued stonewalling and evasiveness:

Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately, it sheds little light on Kellogg’s actions and intentions.

Kellogg’s response that it needed to make labeling changes “because of modifications to our manufacturing process” is circuitous. We understand the company needed to change the labeling after adding peanut flour to the products. What we don’t understand – and what the company continues to sidestep – is WHY Kellogg’s decided to add peanut flour to these varieties despite the danger such an action presents.

The company continually repeats the mantra that they needed to make this change and that the decision wasn’t easy. WHY? WHY was the decision made, WHY did the company deem it necessary, and HOW IS IT that the company can remove the allergen again from one variety in September if this manufacturing change was necessary?

Let me be absolutely clear what we in the community need to know so there is no misunderstanding:

  • WHY has Kellogg’s chosen to add peanut flour to these crackers?
  • IS THIS A PRELUDE to Kellogg’s adding peanut flour to other products across your extensive line?
  • WHY did Kellogg’s not announce the introduction of this most allergenic ingredient in a press release in an effort to reach a broader audience?
  • WHY did Kellogg’s not consult with their contacts in food allergy advocacy before making this decision?

If this decision wasn’t taken to raise the protein content/decrease the carbohydrate content or to simply manufacture the products more cheaply, then kindly explain WHY.

We look forward to a sincere, forthright response from Kellogg’s. But please, kindly convey to your management that they should refrain from insulting me or members of my community by rehashing the same half-answers in an effort to distract us from having our concerns addressed.

As of this writing, our petition has garnered over 22,000 signatures and continues to gain momentum, and it is only a matter of time before this issue is addressed by the traditional media. Kellogg’s should step up now and be honest with their most vulnerable customers, or find themselves addressing a much larger controversy by waiting.

Thank you.

Dave Bloom

Do we think Kellogg’s is involved in a vast conspiracy to introduce allergens to our nation’s food supply? No, not at all. But after the company’s denial that this was done to enhance their products’ nutritional content, we are left to believe they “needed” to make this change simply to reduce the cost of manufacture and increase their profit margin.

Will Kellogg’s stop with crackers or is it their plan to introduce peanuts across more of their product line?

We simply don’t know for sure, but we can make an educated guess in light of the company’s actions and refusal to address this question.

Kellogg’s made an internal decision to change the formulation of these products despite the fact that they have changed little over the years and were already highly profitable [page 25 paragraph 7 of the 2015 Annual Report]. Assuming the intent of adding peanut flour was to make these products even more profitable, the question then is why wouldn’t the company expand the addition across more of their product line?

We believe the addition of peanut flour to this segment is a test case, a prelude to swapping peanut flour for wheat flour in cookies, snacks and other products in order to systematically decrease the cost of ingredients of those products and by doing so increase profit margins.

Such a move will have catastrophic repercussions for peanut allergy sufferers – especially school age children – by introducing this most allergenic ingredient across a vast array of products, resulting in anaphylaxis to those who accidentally ingest them or come in contact with the residue left by others.

Make no mistake about it: the company considered the risks prior to taking this action and discounted the potential for adverse reactions, instead choosing to move forward with their plan without disclosing their reasons or intentions for doing so.

In answer, we encourage our readers to take action and push back on Kellogg’s reckless and irresponsible decision. Please continue to tweete-mail and voice (1-800-962-1413) your objections to Kellogg’s; sign and distribute the petition, and contact your local media and become the local champion to this cause. (See the amazing job this family has done.)

Remember, should Kellogg’s deem this test case a success, they may expand the introduction of peanut flour across other segments of their extensive product line exacerbating an already dangerous decision and leading other companies to follow suit. Only you and your continued activism will dissuade them from doing so.

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