This is a great question and one that I think should be discussed more. You’re right, natural labels are incredibly misleading and if you do not educate yourself, you will be fooled every time. I think that the biggest misunderstanding is that just because a food product reads “natural” does not mean that it is organic. Let’s face it, consumers want to feel like they are purchasing the healthiest, freshest food; corporations know that and always use a play on words as a marketing strategy to sell more. The good news however, is that ingredients hardly ever lie. When it comes to buying organic, we are seeing an increased amount of buzz in the media questioning the actual authenticity of the “USDA certified organic” label. There are a variety of guidelines and procedures that farmers are supposed to adhere to in order for their products to be certified as “organic”. As a raw-vegan, when I shop for food, I always look at the ingredients and try to find items that have simple, straighforward, whole ingredients. If I don’t understand what’s listed I’m probably not going to purchase the item.
As nellieliz4 said, the term “natural” is a very broad term and it has no legal definition, so companies can slap a label that says “natural” on the side of their product whenever they feel like it. When it comes to buying products, it is important to educate yourself about labels so that you know if you are making the right choice. There are some reliable labels from non-government groups that you can trust. If you would like to learn more about these labels, the sinsofgreenwashing website has a fun game that you can play to learn how to distinguish real green products from fake ones.
Natural is one of the most abused eco terms out there. Luckily, the National Products Association has finally developed strict standards for certifying products as natural. The guidelines dictate that ingrediants should come from natural flora, fauna, or minerals, minimal or no processing, no animal testing (unless required by law), and not have any human or environmental health risks. Products have to have at least 95% natural ingredients in order to be labeled, and must be in the most biodegradable/environmentally conscious packaging. In addition, if a product meets the standard, at least 60% of products in the same line must meet the natural standard to be labeled.
Given these standards, there are still plenty of companies boasting “natural” in their products that do NOT meet these guidelines. Unfortunately, they have not yet been forced to change their packaging/marketing. Always look for certification seals when buying green products to know they are held to some sort of standard. Unfortunately, when the new Green Guidelines were released last year by the FDA, “natural” was not one of the terms addressed.
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