Ethisphere Magazine, a “national publication dedicated to illuminating the important correlation between ethics and profit,” recently named the Kellogg Company as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, making Kellogg one of

the elite list of companies [that] were recognized for their strong leadership in ethics and compliance, advancement of industry discourse on social and ethical issues, and positive engagement in the communities in which they operate.

Ethical? Hmmm.
Let’s take a look at what the Kellogg Company produces:

With 2006 sales of almost $11 billion, Kellogg Company (NYSE: K) is the world’s leading producer of cereal and a leading producer of convenience foods, including cookies, crackers, toaster pastries, cereal bars, fruit snacks, frozen waffles, and veggie foods. The company’s brands include Kellogg’s, Keebler, Pop-Tarts, Eggo, Cheez-It, Nutri-Grain, Special K, Rice Krispies, Murray, Austin, Morningstar Farms, Famous Amos, Carr’s, Plantation, Ready Crust and Kashi. Kellogg products are manufactured in 17 countries and marketed in more than 180 countries around the world.

In searching through this list, I can’t find a single product that is actually healthful. In fact all, of them are dreadful. They are all what are referred to euphemistically as ‘convenience foods.’ I think a more accurate description would be junk foods.
I would venture to say that virtually every product Kellogg makes is a health destroyer. Which figures, since the company was founded by the brother of the vile charlatan John Harvey Kellogg (an action causing a breech in their relationship that was never repaired), whose sanitarium brought many, many of its patients to grief. As Hank Williams, Jr. sings, “It’s an ol’ family tradition.”
(If you want to read an entertaining and informative fictional treatment of J.H. Kellogg and his ilk, get a copy of the fabulously well-written The Road to Wellville and devour it. You may think that all the treatments and theories discussed in the book are fictional, but I can assure you they are not. Everything from Fletcherizing, to radiation treatment, to yogurt enemas, to major surgeries for non-existent bowel disorders, to womb manipulation took place as described. And don’t bother renting the movie–it sucks and has very little correlation to the book. On another note regarding womb manipulation…a little known fact of medical history is that up until the first part of the 20th century a large part of the time spent by many physicians in their practices was devoted to bringing their female patients to orgasm. Strange but true. If there is enough interest in learning more about this bizarre branch of medical practice, I’ll enlarge on the topic in a future post.)
What does make a company ethical? Is it how it treats its employees? Is it how it treats its customers? Is it how it treats the environment? (You can read Ethisphere Magazine’s selection process here under ‘Methodology.’)
If a company treats its employees wonderfully, is terrific to its customers, and is environmentally friendly, yet sells a toxic product that kills, is it still an ethical company? How about the tobacco companies? Are they ethical if they treat employees, customers, and the environment well?
keebler-elf-smaller.jpgI would posit that the Kellogg Company is worse than the tobacco companies. At present the tobacco companies promote their products to consenting adults who should know better. I know that these companies have subtle ways of getting their message out to kids that it’s cool to smoke, but the cereal and ‘convenience food’ manufacturers advertise directly to children. Their products are designed to be children-friendly and have cartoon characters on the boxes. Yet they’re filled with trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, not anyone’s idea of a great diet for kids.
Maybe if the tobacco companies ditched the Marlboro Man and other such adult icons and instead labeled their products with pictures of the Keebler elves, they, too, would get a nomination to the list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.


  1. Dr. Mike
    Both my mother and grandmother have Interstitial Cystitis and are taking medication for it, though it does not appear to have helped much. Do you think a low-carb diet would benefit them?
    Hi Freddy–
    Uh, isn’t this a little off topic?
    I don’t know the answer to your question.  But I do know that decreasing sugar and carb in the diet reduces the incidence of standard, garden-variety urinary tract infections, and I know that low-carb diets reduce inflammation.  Whether this would make a difference in those with chronic interstitial cystitis I don’t know.  But I doubt that it would hurt to give it a try. 
    Keep me posted.

  2. Agree totally but I think we are in the minority. All my friends and family eat tons of fake food and processed carbs. Maybe one day we’ll look at this stuff the way we view cigarettes today, and wonder how on earth physicians could endorse these products as “heart healthy,” just as they once advised people to smoke in order to deal with stress or lose weight.

  3. I hear a lot about how Eco-friendly and ‘progressive’ Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is as a company, too. I’m an Ice Cream fanatic (Probably the biggest bane of my attempts to stay low-carb), but I have to wonder if the world would be even better if they didn’t make and sell ice cream at all. Just because they’re ‘better’ than other confectionery companies, doesn’t mean they’re ‘good.’
    ‘Whole Foods’ is usually listed pretty highly as a profitable yet ‘ethical’ company, and, although they sell a wide variety of things of dubious value (‘Homeopathic’ products, soy and grain based products) they also seem to be one of the best choices (at least that I can find) for organic dairy, meats, and produce.

  4. Yes, a company that sells people what they want, and is otherwise good, is an ethical company.
    Aside from your overstatement of how harmful their products are, even if they sold something actually toxic, that people insisted on eating, they’d be ethical. They sell what is in demand, and there are few things more ethical than that.
    The fact that physicians no longer have giving women hysterical releases as part of their job is surely the sole reason I’m not one.
    Is there any evidence that trans fats are universally harmful to children? I know they CAN be harmful, to people susceptible to health problems, especially people in their forties or older, especially if they’re laconic. But they’re not magically toxic, like castor beans…they’re something that CAN, especially in excess, be harmful to SOME people, SOME of the time.
    By the way, the “joe camel is a cartoon” thing is sheer nonsense. The Marlboro Man is the kid-attracting image, not the cartoon character. That’s why almost no children smoke Camels, and almost never did, while Marlboro has completely dominated the market from child to grave. Kids don’t smoke to be cute, they smoke to be GROWN UP.
    Not only would keebler elves selling tobacco be less successful, but all the new laws attempting (hopelessly) to ban “children” from smoking ENCOURAGE kids to smoke, by emphasizing that “smoking is only for grownups. You can’t smoke unless you’re old enough”…well hey, they WANT to be old enough, clearly smoking will help them prove they are. Talk about increasing smoking’s impact as a rite of passage…
    Hi Kaz–
    Interesting.  I assume you would approve of a company harvesting kidneys and other organs under questionable circumstances and selling them at a fair price to the many people in desperate need of them?  As you put it:

    They sell what is in demand, and there are few things more ethical than that.

    There is a demand and the organ harvesting company might be wonderful to its employees.  If you find this to be less than ethical, then it can be said that being ethical requires more than simply meeting a demand.  If that is the case, then it isn’t black and white; there is a continuum.  Then the argument becomes where along that continuum a company becomes ethical verses non-ethical.
    You also wrote:

    By the way, the “joe camel is a cartoon” thing is sheer nonsense. The Marlboro Man is the kid-attracting image, not the cartoon character. That’s why almost no children smoke Camels, and almost never did, while Marlboro has completely dominated the market from child to grave. Kids don’t smoke to be cute, they smoke to be GROWN UP.
    Not only would keebler elves selling tobacco be less successful, but all the new laws attempting (hopelessly) to ban “children” from smoking ENCOURAGE kids to smoke, by emphasizing that “smoking is only for grownups. You can’t smoke unless you’re old enough”…well hey, they WANT to be old enough, clearly smoking will help them prove they are. Talk about increasing smoking’s impact as a rite of passage…

    Do you have data to back this up or is it strictly your opinion?  It is stated as if it is a confirmed fact, but I suspect it’s merely surmise on your part.  I would be interested in seeing some documentation.
    As to your comments on trans fats…

    I know they CAN be harmful, to people susceptible to health problems, especially people in their forties or older, especially if they’re laconic.

    Especially if they’re laconic?!?!?!  How could trans fats be more damaging to a person simply because he/she isn’t particularly wordy or loquacious?  Inquiring minds want to know.

  5. Not to defend Kellogg’s or anything, because I agree with your opinion of what they’re really selling, but the organic varieties of their cereals (which are shown in the photo at the top of your post) do not contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or partially hydrogenated anything.
    Two of our kids still live with us — they’re 18 and 21. We haven’t been able to convert them to low-carb living — at least, not entirely. They love cereal for breakfast and snacking, and we buy it for them, but we told them we will not spend our money on HFCS or partially-hydrogenated fats. If those ingredients are listed on an item, the answer is no. So we happen to have three boxes of Kellogg’s organic cereals down in the kitchen cabinet, and I checked the ingredients just now to be sure. No HCFS and no trans fats. The list reads like one you’d see on one of the organic brands.
    Not that that makes the cereals a health food. And like I said, I’m not trying to defend Kellogg’s, because I know the organic varieties are just their response to the recent frou-fra about ingredients and their attempt to cash in on people’s interest in less-processed, more-healthful versions. My interest is simply to put out the truth of the matter.
    Glad to see you back. I too thought you might be having troubles with the new Mac.
    Hi Anne–
    I agree that the non-HFCS and non-trans fat varieties of all this stuff is probably better than the original, but it’s still junk food.  It’s probably even more pernicious than the old junk food because people are lured into a false sense of healthfulness surrounding these products causing them to eat even more.  Hey, it’s organic; it’s good for you.  Eat up!

  6. This is essentially a question of whether an enabler can be ethical. I (winner of my Dean’s Award for Business Ethics) honestly don’t know. Let’s think through this with the most clear cut one: Ciggys.
    A ciggy manufacturer knows that his products are deadly. They knew before anyone else, and they currently fund ads that tell everyone that their products are deadly. All of their clients know that their products are killing them (except the deluded ones who are lying to themselves). Yet, still they buy. And, if it weren’t Phillip Morris selling them, it would be someone else. And if it were illegal to sell them (I know you’re not a fan of regulation), people would cultivate tobacco on their own. Don’t believe me? Look at pot (which doesn’t kill you, AFAIK).
    Kelloggs is a little more complicated, right? The folks who read this are pretty sure that most of their products are deadly, in the long term. But the population at large isn’t there yet. And when they get there, will it matter? Will they put down the cookies, or will they look at it like a better tasting cigarette?
    I don’t know. I think it’s weird that Ethisphere’s rating mechanism doesn’t weight products at all. It’s theoretically possible for an international arms dealer to be ethical on their scale, as long as he gives to charity, complies with regulations, sells volume and is well respected.
    While Kellogg’s might be a “Carb Hitler”, I’m not ready to put them there. Course, for pulling the LC Eggo, they should be shuttered. But I’m not ready to put them in the cigarette/international arms dealer category just yet. Maybe soon though.
    Hi Max–
    I agree.  They’re probably not in the cigarette/international arms dealer category, but they’re pretty bad.  I would hate to make a career out of selling sugar to children.  Not a lot different than getting them hooked on other addictive substances, just more societally acceptable.

  7. I can honestly say that this “womb manipulation” intrigues me. I was disappointed to hear it is no longer mainstream.

  8. I just went to the Ethisphere site and it’s run by corporations. Since I don’t believe that self-policing works in ANY business environment, I won’t be using the site as a reference for anything. “Self-policing” is merely a synonym for “conflict of interest.”
    I always check who founded any website that I intend to use as resource material. The site must be run by interests not at all tied to the industry or situation they are overseeing–in other words, they must be third party watchdogs. That’s why any info provided by any oil company on the future of fossil OR alternative fuels is not a website I will ever use, for instance, or the site thetruthaboutsplenda, which is run by:
    “This website is part of an effort to educate consumers about the chemical artificial sweetener Splenda and is provided by The Sugar Association, which represents sugar beet and sugar cane farmers across America.”
    The above is actually new information. The original “founder” was an individual who was exposed as a former marketer for the sugar industry, but now they have to reveal the source of the website’s income–the sugar industry.

  9. I noticed Pepsi was also listed along with MacDonalds, Genzyme, Novartis and Novo Nordisk. I don’t REALLY know if the last three pharma companies do anything good, I am assuming they do a little good. But I bet they do more bad then anything.

  10. I agree Doc. I eat a cereal called Nutlettes from Dixie Diners out of Texas, and if you stack it up next to Kashi, no contest – lower carbs, less sugar, etc., all in favor of Nutlettes. Yet I have to admit that the sell job on Kashi is shrewd, boxes sure look like healthful grains reside in the box – just don’t look at the label. Excellent article – I had never thought about it that way. BTW, how do you satisfy the cold cereal itch? I know you like the Proatmeal (as do my wife and I), but cold cereal?
    David and Susan Futoma
    Hi David and Susan–
    Although I grew up on Cheerios and corn flakes like most kids of my generation, I don’t really have a ‘cold cereal itch’ much now.  When I do have it, I usually ignore it.  Occasionally – very occasionally – I’ll eat a bowl of home made granola that a little breakfast place near our house sells.  I’ve eaten it maybe three times in the last six years.

  11. I’m less interested in learning about this “bizarre” medical practice than I am in finding a practitioner!!!!
    Hi Kathy–
    You’ll probably have to go back about a hundred years to find a practioner.  What was normal then would get a doctor sued and probably put in jail today.


  12. I’m a longtime fan and I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog. And you’ve hit the nail on the head once again with this posting.
    The Kellogg corporation is a fierce detriment to our children and to our country. It’s just like you said–sure, peddle the smokes to adults who should know better? Fine. But jeez, can you please give our children a fighting chance? Of course not.
    Good to communicate with you again.

  13. I was in my local “natural” supermarket this past weekend and was stunned at the number of “organic” foods aimed at kids that were just pure crap. Breakfast cereals (“sweetened with pure cane sugar, gluten-free!”), macaroni and cheese, crackers, ice cream sandwiches, various grain puffs, juices … all with happy little cartoon characters above the “organic” print.

  14. I’ve seen the movie (yep, stupid but it has some funny parts), and now I’ve requested the book from the library.
    I’d bet your readers would love to have some background information on old medical treatments….I’ve read that the vibrator was orginally made for docs because it was so much work “manipulating the womb”. LOL
    Hi Cindy–
    You are correct about the vibrators.  The old way was pretty tiring, not to mention time consuming.

  15. On the money again, Mike. I no longer buy Kellog cereals but I do rely on MorningStar foods for the protein. As a vegetarian low–carber, they seem to work and they taste better than most. I believe they are beginning to market organic non-gmo soy burgers- a ray of ethical hope for us meatless warriors!

  16. The very first thing I said was “Yes, a company that sells people what they want, and is otherwise good, is an ethical company.”
    Obviously, harvesting kidneys under “questionable circumstances (presumably against the patients’ will) would not count, because that violates the people whose kidneys were stolen.
    If Kelloggs is stealing wheat to make their pop tarts, then they’re not an ethical company.
    You seem, in suggesting that the two are equal, to be failing to differentiate between coercion and voluntarily “wrong” behavior. The initiation of coercion is always evil, whether it be force/violence, fraud/deception, or theft. But people voluntarily engaging in activities that are thought by others to be wrong, yet don’t violate anyone against their will, are at most debatable.
    Likewise, you misinterpret my statement of the ethics of meeting a demand; If an action is ethical, that doesn’t mean all actions taken to acheive it are also ethical. Telling the truth is always ethical, but murdering someone to learn truth that was none of your business, and then violating someone’s legitimate privacy by telling it would NOT be ethical. Likewise meeting a market demand is ethical, but you still need to not initiate force, fraud, or theft to do so.
    As for the Joe Camel vs Marlboro Man question, which part are you disputing? A five minute google can tell you not only which cigarette dominates the marketplace (Marlboro), but also which is most smoked among children (Marlboro).
    Likewise, you can google up discussions of WHY children smoke, by sociologists and psychologists instead of by bureaucrats praying upon our fears in order to profit from anti-smoking hysteria. It’s an effort to seem more adult. It is a rite of passage. Which is more of a symbol of adulthood: A cartoon character, or a studly cowboy? It’s no surprise that Marlboro has the largest market share of any brand, in any age group.
    By the way; our government-imposed organ transplant system is, itself, a grave evil. It violates the free will of people who would sell their own organs, or who would buy organs to save their own lives. The only regulatory purview government legitimately has in organ transplants is to protect people from having them stolen, or being defrauded. They have no business causing the deaths of large numbers of people each year by creating an artificial organ shortage with their ridiculous bureaucracy and rules.
    I would argue that there are companies that could see products for which there might be great demand and that company might not be ethical.  Certain types of drugs, for example.  I’m sure you believe in legalizing drugs, and so do I.  But some can wreak plenty of havoc upon those who use them, and can cause permanent damage.  Were these drugs legal, there would be a demand for them. (There is already a demand for them and they’re not legal.)  People taking these drugs are a menace to themselves and others.  I don’t think a company of person would be ethical providing such drugs even if they were legal and there was a huge demand. 
    And I don’t believe that telling someone to do a 5-minute Google search is providing documentation.  If it were, I could post any outrageous thing I wanted on this blog, then when readers took me to task, I could simply tell them to do a quick 5-minute Google search and they would see that I was right.

  17. What I do when the cold cereal itch hits, is to take a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes, add chopped pecans and almonds, mix in a scoop or so of protein powder, some cinnamon, and a packet of Splenda. If I want a little more carbs, I might add some berries. Splash in some cream and a little water and stir.
    It’s both chewy and crunchy – really hits the spot.
    Mmmm.  Sounds good.  I’ll give it a try next time I have the itch.

  18. Oh, and I mis-used “laconic”. Apparently I learned the word from context, and in this case incorrectly parsed its meaning. In my defense, I noes lot’s of other word’s.

  19. I think I’ll have to give that recipe of Ryan’s a try, too. I used to eat a lot of that Kashi cereal before I saw the light.
    Didn’t the Victorians also believe that a woman needed to achieve an orgasm in order to conceive? Seems that I read that somewhere.
    Hi Esther–
    Don’t know if the Victorians believed that or not, but somehow I doubt it.  Looks like there is enough interest that maybe I should do a post on womb manipulation in due course.

  20. I work for Kellog Snacks Division as a Merchandiser(guy who puts stuff on the shelf in stores.) I do everything but cereal, pop-tarts and kashi(but not for long.) And I have to say that kellogg is most definitely NOT an ethical company. The only reason they were considered in the first place is because of a massive campaign they threw million of dollars at called “K Values” which is a huge list of niceties that the company wants every employee to live by. Every employee in the company had to sign a pledge to adhere to the guidelines within. Not only do they they want you to live by them at work, but also at home. What a load of crap. I’ve personally met one of the regional managers(multi-state) and he was one of the biggest assholes I have ever met. He has the most abrasive personality of anyone I can think of off hand. The policy at Kellog is to promote bulldogs and demote good people, or cut their pay so much that they have to move somewhere else.
    Recently they just announced that they are cutting the pay of their sales reps by 25%, and will soon follow by adding 46 new items that they have to bring into the store and babysit several times a week. This means they will be working longer and harder for less. My boss(For whom I have a great deal of respect) has been working as a sales representative for keebler for over 15 years and loved the company when “Keebler” was still calling the shots. Ever since Kellogg bought them out with their hostile takeover his pay as gone to hell and his work load doubled.
    I have not even got to how this affects me. I am pretty much the lowest man on the totem pole in the company. The order of importance in the company goes, Corporate, Warehouse, Distribution, Drivers, Account managers, Sales Reps, and lastly merchandisers. As the folks in my position are on the bottom, we are the largest group of employees. This means that when it comes to being a month away from a quarterly budget and their falling short, we are the easiest way to save money, therefor they come in under the budget and all the corporate assholes and regional managers get their multi thousand dollar bonuses. While we the merchandising force get our hours cut in half a month and a half before Christmas.
    There is nothing ethical about Kellogg. Nothing whatsoever. If they really had any ethics to begin with they would start asking question like, “What percentage of our workforce is on federal or state assistance?,” “How many of our employees are on welfare?,” “Or my favorite is it worth taking Christmas away from thousands of children because their parents are employed by a bunch of heartless assholes just to make your stock price rise 5 percent.”
    The answer is no, you suck. Kellogg, you have half the ethics of a great company like Keebler had before you took them over. And it doesn’t matter how many millions of dollars you throw at the Kvalues program, you are still a bunch of heartless assholes.
    Interesting insight. Thanks for posting.

  21. Great posts here and the ‘Ethisphere’ model is in fact window dressing to further perpetuate opressive business practices of major corporations. If you look at the ‘most ethical’ companies (HSBC, GE?) they read like a ‘who’s who’ of preditory practices, off-shore labor and unethical practices.
    It doesn’t mean crap to celebrate these ‘well adjusted Nazis’ – more employees need to band together to boycot the products of ‘heartless assholes’ NOW!

  22. Hey Guys, don’t let your cortisol be raised, it shows them they’ve been noticed.
    There is no such thing as bad publicity, there is only Brand Exposure.
    It’s Marketing, Marketing, Marketing by Kelloggs and many others – ‘cos it it as certain as Death & Taxes that that there is perceived “added value”, that is, a higher price mark-up charged on the Organic Product at all levels in the Distribution Chain.
    Even in a product with as little processing as milk, there is ALWAYS a higher store price asked for skim, “lo-fat” etc over the normal “full fat” product! Why? Higher added value.
    (BTW, it’s the same for “fish oils”, ” cod liver oil” and so on – the price premium for the “convenience” of encapsulation is quite staggering.)
    It’s neither ethical nor non-ethical, it is just making sure that another Manufacturer cannot get a leading Brand Image over another supplier and become an alternative supplier to the trade.
    Business as usual – plus ca change, just more of what your mother can choose.
    (Ignore, I’m light headed before completing my 1st day IF.)
    Bye – no response needed.

  23. I agree with the anonymouse guy; I also work for kelloggs, their ethical ranking is absolutely a meaningless gesture decided by a meaningless source. It wasn’t wallstreet or the economist because their ethics compliance training falls short of valuable. They ask one questions like “Don’t you love kelloggs while you’re not breaking any laws” etc. the corporate rhetoric and policies make one realize “this is not a job, this is observational insight and hell on earth” and fuck cheezits

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