Americans Are Confused About the True Meaning of "Natural" Foods

by Daniel Barna

As consumers are becoming more conscious of what goes into their bodies, some food retailers are using healthy descriptors for their products a little too loosely.

A new survey released by Consumer Reports revealed that 73% of people seek out food that includes the word "natural" on the label. By comparison, only 58% of the 1000 adults surveyed prefer buying food that's labeled "organic." What most people don't realize is that the word "natural" is virtually meaningless when it comes to mass-produced food products.

Urvashi Rangan, director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group of Consumer Reports, wants consumers to know that while labeling food items with words like "organic" requires official verification, using the word "natural" has no prerequisite health standard.

In other words, Rangan wants consumers to realize that "natural" is virtually meaningless, and explains that some companies use the First Amendment as justification for including it on their labels. "Part of the FDA's job is to stop misleading labeling," she said. "We're all for freedom of speech, but not freedom to mislead people."

One company being taken to court for this misdirection is Quaker Oats, who will have to defend itself in a lawsuit filed against its allegedly "100% natural oatmeal," which actually includes traces of pesticide.

"[Consumers] think for processed foods, 'natural' means that it has no pesticides, no artificial ingredients, no artificial processing," Rangan added. "Nearly half the people [questioned] think it's verified, but it's not a verified label."

Learn more about how food affects your body with the book Clean Slate, and let us know if having the word "natural" on food labels is important to you.

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