The “Natural” Myth
Consumers who buy food or products labeled “natural” may be surprised to know that the “natural” label does not have any particular meaning to it. That is to say if you assume that something labeled “natural” in a grocery store does not, for example, contain growth hormones, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), synthetic substances or is processed lightly or in a kind and gentle way, you’re wrong. The sad truth is the“‘natural” label is a marketing device to make consumers believe that purchasing the item is a healthier choice when that is usually not the case.
Unlike the “organic” label there are no firmly established federal standards for the “natural” label. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the “FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” See http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm214868.htm So the FDA has decided to essentially leave this issue alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates meat, poultry and egg products, takes almost the same approach. The USDA says that products “labeled as ‘natural’ must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the ‘natural’ label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.” See http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateC&leftNav=NationalOrganicProgram&page=NOPConsumers&description=Consumers
Since the label “natural” is a voluntary label, food manufacturers essentially decide what they want to label as “natural”. As a result, according to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), “In the majority of cases, ‘natural’ products are greenwashed conventional products, with ‘natural’ label claims neither policed nor monitored. The OCA further asserts that corporate natural food store chains and distributors “are maximizing their profits by selling quasi-natural products at premium organic prices.” See http://www.organicconsumers.org/whole_foods_unfi.cfm This deceptive practice further takes away a consumer’s reliance on the “organic” label (which does hold to certain standards by creating a false belief that the consumer is buying something just as good for a lower or near equivalent price.