What does 'natural' really mean when it comes to food?
Eating organic and healthy food is a growing trend. More and more companies are catering to those cravings; and consumers are even willing to pay more if they believe a product is better for them. But if you are buying items because they are labeled "all natural," you're about to be upset. It turns out that word is not what it seems.
"Do you know what that means?" consumer expert Amy Davis asked shopper Cyndee Thompson, showing her a bag of sweet potato fries labeled "All Natural."
"Hmmm.. I assume good things are in there," Thompson answered.
"I would assume that it doesn't have preservatives," another man guessed.
"I'm not really sure what natural would be to be quite honest with you," admitted another shopper. "It does sound good; but I don't honestly know what that means."
We found the word "natural" on dozens of food products at the grocery store, from popcorn to frozen hot wings to deli meat. The word is literally everywhere; and consumers are gobbling up items with the label.
Dictionary.com defines it as "existing in or formed by nature (opposed to artificial);" but the Food and Drug Administration doesn't define it. That means food manufacturers can use the word on any product they want. It doesn't mean anything.
Consumer Reports highlighted seven products labeled "natural" that have questionable ingredients.
Wesson vegetable oil is labeled "Pure and 100% natural;" but Consumer Reports says the oil is made from soybeans genetically engineered to withstand herbicides. Kraft "natural" cheese contains cellulose powder to keep the shreds from sticking together and the antifungal natamycin, which is also used as a pesticide.
Alexia puts the words "All Natural" on all of its frozen potato products; but Consumer Reports says they also contain xanthan gum, an ingredient extracted from a slime produced from bacteria as a thickening agent.
"I would like to know that," Thompson said, about the ingredients that are not natural.
"I think a lot of people are confused," said another shopper.
The FDA is considering defining the word "natural" and then requiring food manufacturers to meet certain requirements before they can use the word. The agency is taking public comments from everyone. They want to know what you think "natural" should mean. Should it mean no preservatives or no artificial colors? You can chime in by submitting your comments to the FDA online.