Defining Natural Food
If you go to any supermarket, you’re likely to see a plethora of products labelled “natural,” but what does that term really mean? It certainly seems to imply that there’s a minimal amount of processing involved in its production or in its ingredients, but what standards does a food product have to live up to to be called natural?
Definitions vary country-to-country. The United Kingdom’s regulations preclude any genetically modified foods, among other things, stating that natural foods can only include “ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man.” In Canada, natural foods are cannot be processed or have any additives in them, including artificial flavorings, nutrients, colorings or minerals. But what are the rules regarding natural food in the U.S.?
Natural Foods in the United States
In the U.S., there is no legal definition of natural food. Neither the FDA or the USDA has established criteria for what can be labelled natural. The FDA does discourage use of the term and other regulations prohibit misleading labeling, but the lack of concrete specifications make the issue hard to enforce.
Many so-called “natural foods” in fact contain ingredients that most people would not consider natural. For example, the poultry industry has come under criticism for labeling chicken products all natural when they have been injected with more than a quarter of their weight in saline solution.
Lacking any legal imperative to meet particular criteria for labeling foods natural, the term has been widely applied and is generally meaningless.
Natural vs. Organic Foods
“Organic” foods, in contrast, have stringent criteria that producers must meet in order to label their product as such. The USDA has established rules for Organic Certification that prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, antibiotics and other inorganic compounds, making it one of the more difficult labels to qualify for.
There’s a wide disparity between “natural” and “organic”. The next time you go into the supermarket, you’ll know which term is meaningful–and which isn’t.