When it comes to food labels, we consumers would surely appreciate a high level of trustworthiness. Take the word “natural,” for example. I like to think that “natural” foods are just that — natural, free of unwanted chemicals and chemical processes. According to a recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, for example, 89 percent of people surveyed believed that a “natural” label on meats mean that the meat does not contain growth hormones, and 87 percent believe that no chemicals were added during processing.
Turns out, however, that it’s not as straightforward as that. Civil Eats recently interviewed Urvashi Rangan, PhD, the director of Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center. She explains that the term “natural” is misleading, and that it means simply that “nothing artificial is added to the cut of meat itself.” Unlike the term “organic,” Dr. Rangan explains, the term “natural” is not verifiable and is not backed by any government standards. So-called natural foods can contain a variety of ingredients, including artificial colors, preservatives and GMOs.
The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to impose strict standards for the use of the term “natural” on food labels, in spite of the fact that misleading labels can affect the health of consumers. For example, a person who is allergic to a certain preservative could unknowingly eat food labeled “natural,” believing that the label is backed by strict standards.
But the good news is that people are stepping up to demand reliable food labeling standards. There is still time to sign a petition sponsored by Consumer Reports to ban the use of the word “natural” on food labels. The reasoning behind the petition is that it is better to leave the term “natural” off food labels altogether, rather than to continue with misleading use of the term.
You can also look up food labels and see for yourself at Greener Choices, The page has tools that help consumers check foods based on logos, product type, and more.
I hope you’ll take advantage of these tools that are readily available. The more we know, the more we can make informed, healthy choices, both as consumers and as citizens.