By Britt Lundgren
If you reach for foods labeled “natural,” don’t be fooled. You might be filling your cart with the very foods you’re trying to avoid. Would you believe foods labeled “natural” can contain high-fructose corn syrup and be made with artificial hormones, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically modified organisms?
While the word “organic” is defined by federal law, there are no legal standards for the labeling of most natural foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees food labels, has never defined the term “natural,” and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined it only for meat.
By the USDA’s definition, natural meat contains “no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.” When it comes to foods other than meat, however, the definition of “natural” isn’t regulated by law.
Some food companies use the word “natural” in good faith — using only ingredients most people would consider natural.
Other food companies, however, will print “natural” on their labels while using all sorts of unnatural substances to produce their food — such as synthetic hormones, synthetic herbicides, synthetic pesticides, and genetically modified organisms.
What’s more, natural food production includes no standards for environmental impact or animal welfare. Natural dairy products can come from cows that stand on cement pads all their lives and in such crowded and unsanitary conditions that they need ongoing, preventive antibiotic treatments in order to stay healthy and productive.
|Differences at a Glance:||Organic||Natural|
|Toxic persistent pesticides and herbicides||Not allowed||Allowed|
|Growth hormones||Not allowed||Allowed|
|Sludge and irradiation||Not allowed||Allowed|
|Animal welfare requirements||Yes||No|
|Lower levels of environmental pollution||Yes||Not necessarily|
|Audit trail from farm to table||Yes||No|
|Certification required, including inspections||Yes||No|
|Cows required to be on pasture for pasture season||Yes||No|
|Legal restrictions on allowable materials||Yes||No|
Organic — the real natural
Food bearing the "USDA Organic" seal must meet consistent, uniform standards defined by federal law. When you buy organic food, you get what most probably think of when they think “natural."
Organic crops are raised without toxic persistent pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering or ionizing radiation.
Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors, and they aren’t given any antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones.
So, if you want truly natural food, don’t look for the word “natural.” Reach for the “USDA Organic” seal instead.