In order to make some types of organic bread, for example, it is essential to use baking soda, which is nonorganic. Today, more than 250 nonorganic products are on the list allowed by the National Organic Standards Board. Michael Potter, a founder of organic food producer Eden Foods, calls “the certified-organic label a fraud and refuses to put it on Eden’s products.”
Further complicating the issue, the FDA objects to calling a food “natural” only if it contains artificial flavor, color or other synthetic additives. Crops that are GMOs (genetically modified crops), chickens that are caged, food with added “all-natural” sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup) all can be labeled “natural.” NPR’s The Salt explains here how few the restrictions are to additives in our food and why consumers are confused about the label “natural” versus “organic.”
For fifteen years, Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, has been pointing out that “natural” is just about the most misleading label that you’ll ever see on a food package. Yet consumers still look for that word, food companies still love to use it and the Food and Drug Administration can’t or won’t define it.
So Rangan now says it’s time to kill the “natural” label. Consumer Reports is about to submit formal petitions to the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking them to ban the word from food packages, so that consumers won’t be hornswoggled by empty promises.
It’s the latest turn in a debate that’s gone on for decades, in part because defining naturalness seems to be just as hard as defining beauty.
According to a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the FDA told a food manufacturer in 1940 that canned, heat-treated grapefruit juice couldn’t be called natural. “This term should be reserved for fresh juice or juice which has been kept without intervention of any process of heat treatment,” the agency wrote.
But times and technology change. These days, the FDA only objects to calling a food “natural” if it contains artificial flavor, color or other synthetic additives. Otherwise, there are few restrictions.
Farmers can grow crops using pesticides and genetically modified crops, often called GMOs. They can feed antibiotics to animals or keep egg-laying chickens in cages. Food processors can add sugar (an “all-natural” sweetener, after all) or corn starch or anything else derived from plant or animal life to their products. It’s all “natural.”