In a recent study by Consumer Reports, 62 percent of Americans buy food and beverage products labeled with the term “natural.” Unfortunately, what they think they’re buying versus what they’ve actually put in their grocery cart is vastly different. From meat and poultry to pasta, tortillas, breakfast bars, spreads, beverages and breakfast cereals, natural is littering labels with lies everywhere.
In the Consumer Reports study, people falsely believed the “natural” food label indicated that the product was produced without genetically modified organisms, hormones, pesticides or artificial ingredients. Indeed, when I asked a group of friends at a recent gathering if and why they sought out “natural” on food labels, the majority responded yes. They intentionally purchased these items because:
- They’re healthier for me than their regular counterparts.
- Natural foods are like buying organic foods only a little cheaper.
- I feel better about serving foods that have the natural label on them to my family.
The food and beverage industry’s use of the term “natural” has been a highly profitable marketing ploy that is confusing and misleading, but that may be coming to an end. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” in food labeling and a fourth petition that asked the FDA to to prohibit it’s use altogether. FDA as currently, loosely defines the word “natural” as:
Nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.
The term was never intended to address food production methods, pesticide use, food processing or manufacturing practices and nutritional or health benefits. This means that even foods containing high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified ingredients may carry the “natural” label. Believe it, I’ve seen “natural” oreo-like sandwich cookies on grocery store shelves. The FDA is currently requesting comments on the use of the term “natural” on food labeling until May 10, 2016 so don’t be shy in your response.
The FDA asks the following questions:
- Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural.”
- If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and
- How the agency should determine use of the term on food labels.
While “natural” claims have shown a steady increase on food labels at 13% of new product launches for the last six years, they are expected to decrease in 2016 according to Mintel, a Consumer Products and Research Group. They indicate that many companies are ditching the term either for legal reasons or because they feel there are other ways to indicate naturalness by using shorter ingredient lists, transparent packaging and clean (here we go again) labels.
Categories: Nutrition & Wellness