Here’s proof you can’t believe everything you read: When you see the word “natural” emblazoned on a food label at the grocery store, it might mean, well, absolutely nothing.
The label “natural,” splashed across everything from fruit juices to cereals to microwaveable dinners, isn’t actually verified by the FDA or any third party. Meaning: Unlike other food labels, like “fat-free” or even “healthy,” for example, there are no regulated requirements when it comes labeling a food “natural.” Hence the sugary, rainbow-colored “natural” cereals lining your local grocery store’s shelves.
But a lot of folks don’t know just how meaningless the term "natural" really is: According to a recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 59 percent of consumers look for the term "natural" when they grocery shop. And an even larger percentage of consumers—80 percent—believe that foods carrying the label "natural" shouldn’t contain any artificial ingredients or GMOs and should come from foods grown without pesticides. Unfortunately, none of these characteristics that consumers expect are actually regulated requirements.
But the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center hopes to put an end to this misleading labeling, stat. As Urvashi Rangan, the group's executive director, said in a press release this week:
Due to overwhelming and ongoing consumer confusion around the ‘natural’ food label, we are launching a campaign to kill the ‘natural’ label because our poll underscores that it is misleading, confusing and deceptive. We truly don’t believe there is a way to define it that will meet all of consumers’ expectations.
Let’s clean up the green noise in the food label marketplace so Americans can get what they want: truthful labels that represent important and better food production systems.
As part of its campaign to ban the term "natural," done in partnership with social action platform TakePart, Consumer Reports will deliver a petition to the government later this week which will be followed by a day-long labeling conference at San Francisco’s City Hall on Friday. You can sign the petition here.
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