Beware the Word 'Natural.' It Means Nothing

The FDA won't define it, so it can be, and is, slapped on anything

By Lev Weinstein,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 23, 2008 7:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – "Is that natural artificial yellow coloring?" asks Barry Estabrook in Gourmet. Absurd as the question sounds, it's not, given that the Food and Drug Administration "can't be bothered to define the term at all." Eager to get on the "natural" bandwagon, manufacturers are "shamelessly slapping the word on anything from salad dressing to potato chips," he notes.  And the FDA isn't inclined to do anything about it. 

FDA head Geraldine June says her organization "has a limited budget and must prioritize." But Estabrook has a simple solution: Adopt the code currently in use by the US Department of Agriculture, which applies to meat and poultry products. Here it is: “The product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient or chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed.”

Barry Estabrook, writing in Gourmet, takes the US Food and Drug Administration to task for not establishing an official standard for what may be labeled "natural" in grocery stores.   (AP Photo)
Labels such as this are essentially meaningless, since the US Food and Drug Administration has no official standard for what can be labeled "natural."   (AP Photo)
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Unlike 'organic,' which is legally regulated, 'natural,' when seen in the aisles of your local supermarket, can mean pretty much anything the processors like. - Barry Estabrook

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