Commentary: ‘Natural’ is popular, but what does it mean?

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So if food is labeled “natural,”  is the stuff I’ve been eating “unnatural?”

I admit I don’t always eat right but as far as I know the things I eat are just as “natural” as the products with that label on it.

I must admit I buy “natural” beef at times. But it’s always a function of price and how that particular steak lines up quality- and marbling-wise alongside its “unnatural” cousin.

Nonetheless, retail sales of food labeled “natural” totaled more than $40 billion over the last 12 months, according to Doane’s Agricultural Report, with a survey indicating that more than half of Americans look for “all natural products” when food shopping.

Seems to me consumers are being hoodwinked by marketers because there’s no definition of what “natural” is. You look at something labeled organic and you know that product has met strict government standards to legally use that term on the label. “Natural” means pretty much whatever anyone wants it to mean.

I hear a bill has been introduced in the Senate that would require EPA to establish a standard nutrition labeling system that would include a clear definition of what qualifies as “natural.”

And that opens up another can of worms.

For example, will the beef I referred to earlier qualify as “natural” if it was fed GMO corn? If it was fed non-GMO corn and insecticides were used to protect the crop, does that qualify? If the cattle grazed on land that had herbicide applied to control weeds at some time in the past, can that beef be classified as “natural?” I can begin to sense an impossible task.

If the Senate tasks EPA to jump into this mud pit, they might as well go ahead and define sustainable. That’s another buzzword with no clear definition that marketers love to use on a label to make a buck.

Or maybe EPA will combine the two and come up with a Naturally Sustainable label.

Their research could be fairly simple. Just ask those farm families who have made their living for three, four or five generations on the same land. What they’re doing seems natural to me. And if practices they use to protect their land, conserve clean water, grow quality crops and livestock and continue to make a profit are not sustainable, then we might as well give up and start paying a whole lot more for food.

Stick that on your label.

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Wyo  |  December, 05, 2013 at 11:03 AM

The LAST thing anybody needs is the EPA deciding what "natural" is or making more rules.

December, 05, 2013 at 11:08 AM

What does "natural" mean? About 40 - 80% higher price. Nothing more. What does "organic" mean? About 100 - 200% higher price. Nothing more. What does "sustainable" mean? Whatever any activist zealot wants it to mean in the moment to obfuscate and confuse. Nothing more. What does "processed" mean? Activist food cops don't like this food, which is no more or less "processed" than any other (unless you are eating dirt without chewing). Nothing more. I encourage marketers to exploit these terms. Activists have plenty of money and they are no smarter than that. Whenever they catch on they whine and call it "greenwashing"...another amusing meaningless move-the-goalposts activist weasel word.

Arkansas  |  December, 05, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Snake venom is all natural. You want to take a big swig of that? How about arsenic? If you want to get picky, everything on this planet is natural, or it wouldn't even be here. Not natural would have to brought here by aliens or devil, I would guess!

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