Certainly, the current laissez-faire approach to defining the term ‘natural’ on food labels is untenable. But a consumer advocacy group is pushing for exactly the wrong kind of fix.
The self-proclaimed protector of buyer’s rights, Consumer Reports, has been campaigning all summer to force USDA and the Food and Drug Administration to ban the word “natural” from all food labeling. Just recently, the nonprofit advocacy group partnered with the social media site TakePart.com to publicize its mission.
Calling use of the term “natural” in relation to food products “misleading, confusing and deceptive,” the Consumer Reports publicized a recent survey of 1,000 people in which a large majority believed that the term natural means something other than what it ought to describe.
The survey reported that consumers believe that the natural label on meat and poultry products should mean that the animal was not given growth hormones (89%) or antibiotics and other drugs (81%), and that their feed did not contain genetically engineered organisms (85%) and artificial ingredients (85%). According to the survey, substantial majorities also think natural should mean no chemicals were used during processing (87%), no toxic pesticides were used (86%), no artificial ingredients or colors were used (86%) and no GMO ingredients were used (85%).
Here’s what the TakePart.com post states:
“Even though the Food and Drug Administration does not object to the term natural as long as ‘nothing artificial or synthetic’ is added, there is no definition for the term, which essentially means no regulation and no oversight. As a result, ‘natural’ processed foods can include ingredients from nature that are processed into artificial ingredients and may also come from plants grown with toxic pesticides, bioengineered seeds and chemicals processed with synthetic solvents.”
Okay, I’m not sure if that last phrase was missing a word (“. . . chemicals or processed with synthetic chemicals”) or if there really are chemicals that are processed with synthetic solvents (aren’t solvents themselves chemicals?), but you can see how cleverly the word “bioengineered”—which technically is natural—is slipped into a word sandwich along with Toxic pesticides, chemicals and synthetic solvents—none of which anyone wants in their food.
“The goal [of the Consumer Reports campaign] is to clear up some of the ‘green noise’ in the food label marketplace,” said Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Food Safety and Sustainability Center Executive Director, “so that American consumers can be more confident in their food choices.”