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What Does the Label “Natural” Mean?

“The word ‘natural’ helps sell $40 billion worth of food in the U.S. and the label means nothing.” -GMOInside.org

Have you seen a lot of foods labeled as “natural” or “all-natural” in the store lately? You aren’t alone. It sounds good and makes you feel good when you buy it. Many people think this means something similar to organic. In most cases, it isn’t even close to organic.

Did you know the term “natural” or “all-natural” has even garnered more consumer confidence than organic certification? But unlike “organic,” which is the only such label with the statutory weight of law, the term “natural” is mostly meaningless marketing. No government agency, certification group, or other independent authority defines the term on the packaging or ensures the claim is truthful.

The FDA says the following about the “natural” claim.

From a purely food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is natural because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product naturally found of the earth. That said, the FDA has not developed a definition for the 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.

In theory, that sounds like a decently healthy standard. However, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and more can be used in natural foods. Unfortunately, without a true definition, oversight, or a verification process, it is a waste of everyone’s time to attempt to come to any mutual understanding of what a “natural claim” can be when it comes to food. The biggest issue is the main regulation Organization, the FDA, refuses to get involved. If any producer can put it on its packaging with no consequences, there is no stopping any company from using it fully as a marketing gimmick instead of a true representation of what is actually inside the package. Not to mention, any definition that claims something is natural while accepting GMOs as such carries no weight in my mind. I recommend always reading the ingredients list.

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