The label “natural” on food and other products means absolutely nothing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

135774b2cc69e2eThe word “natural” helps sell $40 billion worth of food in the USA every year and the label means nothing, absolutely nothing. It is worth less than the paper it is printed upon.

Nothing makes people in many countries of the so-called developed world buy a food product quite like the fabulously ambiguous word "natural."

The top 35 health claims and food labels include words most anyone who has been to a supermarket in the past five years should recognize – ones like "natural," yes, but also "organic," and "fat free," and a couple more such as "carb conscious," "100 calories", etc.

These phrases helped the food industry alone in the USA to sell more than $377 billion worth of masterfully marketed food items annually, according to data from market research firm Nielsen.

The list of lucrative food labels is long, and, at times, upsetting. While many of these labels are pasted onto food packages for good reason. It's imperative, after all, that consumers with celiac disease be able to tell which food items are gluten free, or that those with milk allergies be able to tell which are made without lactose.

Some, however, if not even most others, are utterly meaningless. Take food labeled with the word "natural," for instance. Actually, remember it, because it's probably the most egregious example on supermarket shelves today. The food industry now sells almost $41 billion worth of food each year labeled with the word "natural," according to data from Nielsen. And the "natural" means, well, absolutely nothing. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't even have an official definition or delineation of what "natural" actually means. The only thing the FDA has regarding the word is this statement, 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. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

One can, probably, safely assume that many other countries have no definition for it.

Natural is hardly the only misleading adjective the food industry is swinging around these days. The word “organic” (or “bio” in German speaking countries) too, while a bit less nebulous, still means a good deal less than one might think. Often it means very little indeed.

Several others, including ones that reference antioxidants, proteins, calcium and other vitamins and minerals, are confusing consumers by tricking them into believing certain food products are healthier than they actually are, a recent study found. And the trend is only likely to get worse.

Aside from the above, though not food related, there are the labels “green”, “environmentally friendly”, and a few others, that also do not – always – mean what the consumer assumes they mean. That also goes for the Label “Fair Trade” or “fairly traded”.

And when it comes to wood products we all too often encounter then more or less entirely worthless label “FSC certified”. That certification is not worth the paper it is printed upon. All those labels serve but one purpose – or maybe two – namely to sell products and to confuse the consumer and lead him or her to believe that they are buying something good for them or good for the environment.

© 2018