The buzzword at supermarkets these days is “natural.” You see it on all kinds of packaged foods. A new survey from Consumer Reports finds that almost two-thirds of American shoppers say they usually look for foods with labels that say they are “natural.”
Most people who buy processed foods labeled “natural” assume that no toxic pesticides were used, and that there are no artificial ingredients or colorings and no GMOs — genetically modified organisms. And almost half of those surveyed mistakenly think that has been independently verified.
“The problem is, the ‘natural’ label doesn’t guarantee any of this,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Consumer Reports’ director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability. “There are no government standards. In fact, manufacturers are allowed to use artificial ingredients in processed foods and label them ‘natural.’ Without oversight or a legal definition, the ‘natural’ label can be little more than a marketing tool that can fool consumers.”
For example, Wesson vegetable oil is labeled “pure and 100 percent natural,” but according to the company, it’s made from genetically modified soybeans. Del Monte Fruit Naturals contains the artificial preservatives potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, made from industrial chemicals. Del Monte did not respond to questions about the ingredients. And Kraft Natural cheese contains a mold inhibitor, natamycin. Kraft did not respond to questions either.
Consumer Reports says that for processed foods, the “natural” label should mean organic plus no artificial ingredients. And there should be verification required — just as there is for the “organic” label — so consumers can be assured of what they are buying.
Consumer Reports wants the Food and Drug Administration to either ban the term “natural” or define it in a meaningful way. As a result, the FDA is now asking the public to weigh in on how “natural” should or shouldn’t be used on food labels. You can offer your opinion at ConsumersUnion.org/natural.
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