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In seeking to be a health-conscious consumer, I know I often find myself attracted to products that have the “natural” or “all natural” label, but as I recently learned these products might not necessarily be the best choice.   images

In the U.S., neither the FDA nor the USDA has rules or regulations about what can be labeled as “natural.”  As a result, food manufacturers often place a “natural” label on foods containing heavily processed ingredients.  In fact, many of the products that claim to be “natural” are filled with stuff you would never find in nature – including pesticides, chemical additives, hormones and antibiotics in meats, high fructose corn syrup, and genetically modified organisms.

On the meaning of the “natural” label, the FDA website makes clear that the term has no regulatory meaning.  The FDA merely says (in a sort of confusing way… note the obfuscating double negatives used):

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.

That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

This video spoof made by the organization Only Organic attempts to debunk the “natural” myth.  Informative and pretty … reminded me of Chipotle’s upcoming satirical series on industrial farming called “Farmed and Dangerous.

 So what about the Organic Label?

When a food is labeled “Cerified Organic” it has been grown and processed according to USDA national organic standards – organic foods must be produced, grown and harvested without the use of most conventional pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bio-engineering or ionizing radiation   And organic meat, eggs, and dairy products must come from livestock raised without the use of growth hormones and antibiotics.  Organic producers and processors are also subject to rigorous announced – and unannounced – certification inspections by third-party inspectors to ensure that they are producing and processing organic products as required.   And, if it has a “100% organic” label this means that it must have at least 95% organically produced ingredients.  Foods labeled as “organic” only have to have at least 70% organic ingredients (so 30% can be non-organic). And if it just says made with organic, the organic ingredients are usually listed on the side label.  

Hope this is helpful for your next trip to the grocery store – more info on food labels to come!

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