All Natural, Not so Natural

By Cameron Jenkins

Cruising down the aisles at the grocery store, you have a healthier mentality. “I should choose all natural labeled products because that means that they are healthier,” you think. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case, and it is traced back to the Food and Drug Administration, also known as the FDA.

The FDA is responsible for protecting the public’s health by “assuring that foods [except meats and poultry which are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture, USDA] are safe, wholesome, sanitary and properly labeled” (FDA). This also counts for human and veterinary drugs, vaccines, and other biological products for human use. To rise up to its definition, the FDA regulates almost every product that is up for the consumption of Americans. You name it– from individual ingredients to whole food products, the FDA is there with a list of dos and don’ts. This is a good thing, great thing even. This is what keeps us safe from pathogens and chemicals that can do bodily harm.

However, the large, bold lettering of “ALL NATURAL” on your favorite cookie brand may not actually mean anything. Without written credentials of the term, it is relatively useless in determining if the product uses wholesome, organic ingredients or synthetic chemicals. Two companies, an organic one, and a synthetic one, can use the term because they believe that it could get the consumer to buy their product. On the contrary, organic labeled products have certain credentials and regulations to be certified, while natural does not. The natural term is basically just used for marketing and has no indication to the actual composition of the food. Although, some products may actually use it for the good of customers while others are just trying to keep up with the new age of the push to more “clean” foods.

Taken from an article in TIME magazine, it states

For anyone with a deep, enduring faith in the meaning of nature, it may come as something of a shock to learn that the word “natural” means nothing at all—at least when it comes to the business of marketing processed food. Every year, U.S. corporations sell tens of billions of dollars worth of food products labeled as “natural.” Yet, to this day, the Food and Drug Administration has never formally defined the term. The word is a kind of orphan child, undefined by government, misused by industry and without a provenance or a use for the average American consumer. In fairness to the FDA, definition is a tricky thing to do. As the agency states on its website: “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.” But in what could be interpreted as either a progressive leap forward or a significant case of overconfidence, the FDA has issued a public call for comments on what exactly natural should mean.

This is a widely debated topic, and the FDA has not quite given an answer to what the solution will be. More information about that can be accessed here.

Looks can be deceiving. By reading the individual ingredients listed on the back of the product is the only way a consumer can really know how “natural” the product is. So, next time you reach for the termed product, perhaps reach for the “organic” one instead, as that way you’ll officially know that the composition is up to a regulated standard.

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