Friday, November 13, 2015

What does "natural" mean to you?


The FDA (Food & Drug Administration) surprised everyone this week by announcing that they are now taking comments on the use of the term "natural" on food labeling.  It's about time.   

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) who is tasked with the job of monitoring false advertising has been proven so ineffectual that people began reaching out directly to the courts years ago.  Now according to the FDA they have been asked to weigh in by judges to provide guidelines for outstanding cases.

So what does natural mean?  In 1993, the FDA issued non-binding guidance saying "natural means that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected in that food."

But that doesn't take into consideration GMO's and use of pesticides, nor processing methods such as thermal technologies, pasteurization or irradiation.  

Since Mintel reported last year that two-thirds of US adults think foods labeled "natural" are healthy, and people are willing to pay more for foods perceived as healthy, it's an important marketing tool. 

The Food Labeling Modernization Act, currently in committee, would prohibit the use of the word natural for any food that includes a synthesized ingredient. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association has stated its intention to push the FDA to define natural as inclusive of GMO ingredients.  Given that most staple crops in the US (i.e. corn, soybeans and beet sugar) are grown from GM seed, that ship may have already sailed. (Lukovitz, 2015)

So what do you think?  Are you buying foods labeled as "natural?"  And paying more for them?  What does the term mean to you?  What should it mean?  Where does GMO fit in?


Lukovitz, K. (2015, November 11)  Surprise: FDA To Review Use Of 'Natural' Food Claim.  mediapost.com.  Retrieved November 12, 2015, from

13 comments:

  1. I don't find genetic modification of foods to be the issue with the food being grown and distributed today. Some scientist will go as far in saying GM crops are actually more safe than conventional, because the processes in which they are harvested and distributed are subject to more scrutiny. GMOs are products of altered DNA or genetic structure, to either grow more abundantly or more efficiently in adaptation with the environment in which they are to be harvested. Natural, organic, whole- buzz words indeed, marketing tools to appeal to shoppers with sensible purchasing behavior. The problem is chemicals used on the crops (herbicide, pesticides) and then their end processes. Again, GM products are actually structured to withstand or be less susceptible to the chemicals used in staving off bacteria and pests. Take an apple for instance, a food product we eat in entirety (exception of the core), consider the process the farmer, distributor and grocer employs and how much you trust those processes before you bite into the peel. Natural to me, means of the earth with no added ingredients (preservatives, coloring, sugar, etc), no irradiating and no cides', but I understand to meet the demand of society, bulk is necessary and when harvesting in bulk, the crops must survive. I do pay more for buzz words with certain food products, I will not buy regular apples or chicken, for instance.

    "Currently, food irradiators use one of three kinds of radiation: gamma rays (from cobalt-60 sources), electron beams, or x-rays. Bulk or packaged food passes through a radiation chamber on a conveyor belt. The food does not come into contact with radioactive materials, but instead passes through a radiation beam, like a large flashlight. The ionizing radiation sends enough energy into the bacterial or mold cells to break chemical bonds. This damages the pathogens enough that they die or can no longer multiply and cause illness or spoilage. (EPA, Food Irradiation, epa.gov)

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  2. As someone who had been raised by parents who emphasize healthiness, I have always been drawn to the word "natural". Even if a food is higher in price, I would still buy it if it was labeled natural and its lower priced alternatives are not. To me, the natural term means that the foods do not have added preservatives or synthetic chemicals. It should mean that the foods are not added with anything that increases health risks. The term 'natural' is not descriptive enough to convey the entire nature of the healthiness of food. It is too vague and could mean so many things. However, it is a word that brings many positive feelings and has persuaded me to pay more in many cases.

    The mere fact that a crop is grown from a GM seed should not mean that it is not natural. GM supported by research to have added health and environmental benefits.

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  3. I actually have no idea what “natural” means. However, I assume that it must mean something good for my health, even though I am aware of the ambiguity of the word. I know that there is no definition of organic or clear explanation of natural, but when I buy grocery, I always attracted by “natural” or “organic” foods, and I am willing to pay more for those food, hoping that they are healthier. I do not know what “natural” should mean, but I do think that it is unethical to mislead consumers, and manufacturers and governmental regulators should reach an consensus of the definition and inform the customers. I noticed that many products have both “natural” and “non-GMO” on their labels. Based on the definition of “natural” according to manufacturers, “natural” equals to “non-GMO”. This is confusing for customers. Therefore, I support FDA’s definition that “natural means that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected in that food.”

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  4. I`m buying food marked as “natural”, because is a worldwide trend in the last years, supported by paid research by the companies and paying more for that label following unfair market rules.

    I think that we are being cheated right now because natural food needs to be certified on each step of the production chain as “natural” but if you start growing GMO seeds that companies like Monsanto are spreading around the world. Seeds of Apples and potatoes that don`t produce their own seeds after being harvested that’s not natural in any way.

    Food labeled as natural are produced in the old fashioned way in the farms without additives with the common seeds nature has provided us for several years, so GMO won`t fit in for me

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  5. I generally don't read labels on the foods I buy and don't specifically look for foods labeled "natural." I do know people who do and will spend that extra dollar or two for "all-natural." I think "natural" should mean exactly that. As it is. How it comes. Once you alter or add anything it no longer is in its "natural" state. I believe GMO's should also be included as a form of altering and food that contain them should not be labeled as natural.

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  6. I have never been one to base a purchase on the labeling of a product as "natural", or pay more for a product with such a label, however what I believe the term means when describing foods is that natural applies to foods that do not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. While cutting back on these substances may have some benefits, it doesn’t mean necessarily mean that foods labeled as natural are always low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. What I believe it should mean is essentially foods that are minimally processed and do not contain added chemicals and artificial ingredients.

    "GMO's" which stands for "Genetically Modified Organisms," refers to foods that have been genetically engineered for reasons unrelated to health or nourishment in the case of food. Where they fit in with regards to "natural" foods is that in more than 60 countries, manufacturers must label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. But GMO labeling isn’t required in the U.S, yet I found a survey that found that 92 percent of Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled. Concerns about the potential health and environmental risks of GMOs coupled with an unwillingness on the part of the federal government to mandate labeling are leading many states to take action on their own.

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  7. What “natural” means to me is a big fat marketing gimmick that fools people into thinking that it’s exactly what it says – natural, but it’s not. So, I don’t buy any foods labeled “natural.”

    Regarding organic, now I’m a huge proponent of it and think it’s criminal how companies are being deceptive about food labeling and then charging a premium. It’s really sad.

    Concerning GMOs, people automatically assume that it’s organic – Organic 2.0, the new and improved version! It’s not. Although I avoid genetically modified foods, I don’t think the public is aware that GMOs are not regulated like organic foods, which is the most heavily regulated. The way GMOs are processed, it may contain harmful pesticides and chemicals. Conversely, organic producers and processors are subject to rigorous announced and unannounced certification inspections by third-party inspectors. Organic guarantees the following:

    Organic
    * No GMOs used
    * No synthetic pesticides
    * No Roundup herbicides
    * No Hexane
    * No GMOs used
    * No synthetic pesticides
    * No Roundup herbicides
    * No Hexane
    * No sewage sludge
    * No growth-promoting antibiotics
    * No Ractopamine

    When it comes to people's health, I feel there is no room for being deceptive. Be honest with the public! It's surprising to me, but there are plenty of people who are not concerned in the least about whether there food is organic or conventional and the last time I checked, grocery stores are not running out anytime soon.

    On another note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the FDA. I’m still stuck on the fact that they are now taking “comments” on the use of the term “natural.” Really? What is there role? Well, I decided to get their “job description” from their website, which is as follows:

    “FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.”

    I wonder which segment of the “public” the FDA is protecting.

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  8. As with any family your parents want you to eat whats best, so it wasn't a surprise when the eating organic fad started, my mother hopped on board. We started shopping at Trader Joes for the natural and organics things, however, as time went on I began questioning what was really organic or not. In my opinion, the term "natural" means free, fresh and grown without any additives and according to this article this excludes GMO's. My question to the company is how? Genetically MODIFIED Organisms clearly states some modification occurred to your food which means it isn't natural anymore. If a company is claiming it is natural, that is clearly false advertisement. Altering the state of your food shouldn't be considered natural or the consumer should at least be notified of the procedures done to their food. We only buy natural and organic foods because we think it is healthier but this false advertisement defeats the purpose of the label and proves the main objective of these companies is to generate revenue (with the higher prices) without caring for our well being.

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  9. In my opinion the labeling only matters for major household brands. The placement label of the word "natural" really doesn't matter to me because healthy or unhealthy the brand determines my final purchase. I purchase popular name brands consistently regardless of the labeling. The high-end brands control the market, which would change if the FDA enforced all brands to show GMO facts along with nutritional facts. The term “natural” should mean the product is safe to eat because it has not been modified or enhanced in any form.

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  10. I am very conscious about what I eat, and that I eat very healthy. So, I actually don't look for food that is labeled "natural" because that doesn't really mean anything to me. I see it just as a sneaky way to market products as "healthier" and "better", and be able to charge more for them. Because I mean really, when we think about it, everything could be called natural, right? Even pesticides and chemicals could be called "natural pesticied" and "natural chemicals", coudln't they?

    I am not a fan of GMO products, and I don't think they should be allowed! They don't fit in anywhere to me. They are actually banned in Sweden because of their health issues! Although you might not need that many pesticied etc., the products are so articicual and modified that they can do terrible things to your body. I remember when I first heard about them years ago, and for example, you girls at like 7 years old, who had eaten a lot GMO products, had started thier puberty earlier because of all the hormones etc. that these products consist of! Scary...

    Instead, I try to look for Organic fruits, vegetables, and berries, free-range organic eggs, and wild-caught fishes. I believe that those "labels" give you a much more true and accurate indication of healthy food that is good for both your body and the environment.

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  11. In terms of produce, yes, I will reach for organic produce, which to me is the same thing as "natural". But for other items, natural can be a very vague and broad term. And natural can be the way food has been made or grown. It is sad that we have to pay more for food that is less processed, like peanut butter. As for me, I will continue to shop smartly and reach for items that are organic or natural in its truest form.

    The term natural is not a very promising word to associate with food products these days because there is always something that is not mentioned in how it is created. I can remember from my childhood seeing products in the grocery store that were "natural" but had something else written on the back. I've become a smarter consumer now and know when to buy natural products and when to avoid said natural products. From now on, GMO should mean that the product is safe to eat.

    -Sweta P.

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  12. I am not buying foods that are labeled as “natural” but for the lat two years I've been eating organically and I am buying and paying more for foods that are labeled “organic.

    For me, “natural” food meant no artificial flavor or ingredients. But I knew they used pesticides and most likely used processing methods like pasteurization and such with them. I know for sure that corn and soybeans have GMOs in them, that’s why I don’t eat them unless they are organic.

    This is why I buy and pay more for organic food because to be labeled as “organic,” and be FDA approved, produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.

    For me “natural” means no artificial flavor and ingredients and should be grown naturally without ant types of processing or modification. GMO should not fit anywhere in food as it is bad for you because anything genetically modified cannot be good.

    Girlie E. Gaviola

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  13. I personally do not believe in "Natural food", I think it is an advertising tool to sell more products . In fact, it is almost impossible to find food without any chemical, preservatives or pesticide.

    I always question if what I shop is OK for my family. I remember when I was I child I had a hard time eating grapes or watermelon because of their seeds. Now, my children can enjoy eating grapes without seeds and watermelon with a minimum quantity of seeds. Is this natural?

    I think that all brands should be forced to be labeled correctly. How do you know what products are GMOs if it's not mandatory in the US to be labeled? In other developed countries these products are band or required to be labeled.

    It is great that the FAD will now regulate the word "Natural", but the country needs to do something more to control the quality of food that its citizens eat everyday.

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