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Are all-natural claims worth the risk?

2 commentsBy Elaine Watson , 26-Mar-2012
Last updated on 26-Mar-2012 at 14:49 GMT2012-03-26T14:49:52Z

Are all-natural claims worth the risk?

The threat of civil litigation is now so great that food manufacturers using any ingredients not found in ‘Grandma’s kitchen cupboard’ should think twice about making ‘all-natural’ claims on pack, according to one firm specializing in food label compliance.

Karen Duester – president of the Food Consulting Company – was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA in the wake of a string of class action complaints over the use of the word ‘natural’ on food labels.

In the latest case – a complaint filed against Jamba Juice in California – the plaintiff’s attorney argued that “a reasonable consumer would not consider food products containing unnaturally processed, synthetic substances or substances created via chemical processing to be ‘all-natural’.”

Customer requirements, FDA guidance, class actions

Duester said: “The 1993 FDA guidance on ‘natural’ has not changed, but consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the recent wave of class action lawsuits have made everybody much more cautious about how they interpret it.

“A number of ingredients are now being scrutinized that were not considered ‘unnatural’ before.”

She added: “We now advise manufacturers to be extremely cautious on natural claims. First, you have to look at what your customers will accept, then at the FDA guidance, and then at the risk of a lawsuit.”

‘Truthful and not misleading’

While the FDA’s 1993 guidance is clear about avoiding artificial ingredients and added color, its advice that ‘natural’ should be “used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading” was being seized upon by plaintiffs’ attorneys in all-natural cases, she said.

“And that’s what the lawsuits are all focused on. Would a ‘reasonable consumer’ consider that the way this ingredient is processed is ‘natural’? Is it in Grandma’s kitchen cupboard? Does it have a chemical-sounding name?”

She added: “I don’t see the FDA acting to define natural anytime soon, so deciding what you will risk is a business decision each company has to make.  I remember hearing an FDA official say that if we define natural we will have to define un-natural as well, it’s a complete minefield.”

NPA Natural Seal

The Natural Products Association (NPA), which is expanding its Natural Seal certification scheme, which was first developed for home and personal care products, to include food products, says it will have an update on its progress in the summer.

The plan is to roll out standards category by category, beginning with meat & poultry, and snacks & cereals.

Ingredients extracted with organic solvents probably would probably not qualify, along with modified starch, high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, NPA vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs Cara Welch told NutraIngredients-USA.

However, whether genetically engineered ingredients should be excluded from products bearing the seal is still being debated. 

Speaking at the Nutracon conference in Anaheim this month, Justin Prochnow, shareholder at law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, said one of the biggest challenges facing the industry was the threat of civil litigation over label claims: “You have to think at the moment, is it really worth making an all-natural claim?”

Click here to read more about the Jamba Juice complaint.

2 comments (Comments are now closed)

GMOs not natural

GMO adulterated foods and products that contain them are not natural. And should not be labeled as all-natural, because to do so is food fraud, in my opinion. I must eat simple and truly natural foods and products, because of Celiac and food allergies. I'm allergic to corn and sulfites, and a few more substances. Food labels need to be more accurate, instead of misleading, they way they are now.

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Posted by DJ
26 March 2012 | 17h022012-03-26T17:02:51Z

Natural is From Nature

It’s really not a minefield if you understand the true meaning of natural—made from nature without interference or manipulation by man. Genetically modified foods are obviously not natural. Cattle and chickens fattened up with corn and other grains are not natural because this is not how these creatures evolved to eat.

Breakfast cereal is never natural because by definition it is made from highly processed ingredients. Sugar is not natural because humans didn’t consume any sugar until it was slowly introduced into our diet about 8,000 years ago, a microsecond in our evolutionary history. If you get your sugar from chewing on sugarcane I suppose we could call it natural but I doubt this is the case. Sugar is made up of equal parts fructose and glucose and if you exceed more than 25 grams of fructose consumption per day, your liver starts filling up with fat and you develop insulin resistance and central obesity. This is definitely not a natural process.

You need to go back farther than Grandmothers kitchen to find natural food. My Grandmother loved to bake cookies and pies and she died of obesity, diabetes and dementia in her sixties. Her daughter (my mother) didn’t care so much for baking and I grew up eating real food. She’s still alive and doing well at 94.

I suggest spending more time finding ways to get truly natural, wholesome foods to our tables rather than on splitting hairs on whether manufactured food is truly natural.

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Posted by William L. Wilson, M.D.
26 March 2012 | 16h342012-03-26T16:34:33Z

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