How do you define "natural"?
That's what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked the public to answer. Over 7,600 people commented to let the government organization know just how they felt about the controversial food label. The commenting period closed May 10, and now the FDA will be sorting through these comments for the next several months to try and reach an actual definition.
Currently, the FDA has no real definition (or requirements for labeling) a product as natural. In recent years, some consumers have filed lawsuits against companies using this loophole to label highly-processed foods as "all natural." Each time a judge in these cases requests for the FDA to define the label, they choose to decline and instead point to an informal advisory that is over two decades old (and not legally enforceable) that defines natural as “nothing artificial or synthetic."
Consumer Reports found that two-thirds of shoppers thought that the natural food label means more than it really does and almost half incorrectly thought that any claims of "natural" had to be independently verified. This leaves room open for companies to abuse the label and for consumers to be buying products that they believe are healthy based on questionable marketing.
Now that the public had their own soap boxes to stand on and tell the FDA their minds, we sorted through some of the comments to see what the general consensus on "natural" was. The most common recurring theme was that foods labeled natural should not contain GMOs, have unnatural additives (preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, etc.), or be grown with intense pesticides. There were also many commenters who would prefer that the word "natural" be banned from food labels due to its current corrupt state.
Here are just a few of the comments sent in to the FDA:
- "'Natural' means nothing added and not tampered with. No additives such as dyes, preservatives, artificial thickeners, chemically processed oils, hydrogenated oils, artificial sugars, chemically altered sugars, sulfites, food enhancers, soy, GMO's, chemical fertilizers, petrochemicals, insecticides, herbicides, and all the other chemically manufactured substances our food is poisoned with." - Marie Field-Carpenter
- "I think the label 'natural' should not be used in labeling food products because it is hard to regulate the definition since everything essentially comes from earth and can be considered 'natural.' This term has been abused by advertisers, is misleading, and the FDA should put an end to it." - Anonymous
- "When the word 'natural' comes up people don't think about dyes, additives, GMO, and trans fats. People think of food caused by nature, not humankind creation. Food manufacturers using the word 'natural' are deceiving and misleading their customers. This behavior is unacceptable and everybody should deserve to have information of the food they're consuming." - Anonymous
- "The way that food is marketed has grand effects on people's eating patterns and therefore their health. To define natural with ingredients that contribute to massive diet-related illness across the US is irresponsible." - Haley Baron
- "The FDA should define the term 'natural' so that food companies can stop hiding their products behind it." - Hillary McMullin