Consumers, market researchers tell us, want foods that are ‘wholesome’, ‘authentic’, and above all ‘natural’, although few of them can articulate what this means. And they are not alone. Regulators have not had much of a stab at defining ‘natural’ either, says Justin Prochnow, an attorney in the Denver office of law firm Greenberg Traurig.
All the FDA has said is that firms can use 'natural' on labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances, observes Prochnow, who caught up with FoodNavigator-USA at Supply Side West in Las Vegas last week.
But what about high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, GMOs and a whole raft of other ingredients that some consumers feel do not belong in a product labeled as ‘all-natural'?
It's down to who the judge believes
If an opportunistic plaintiff's attorney can argue persuasively that his client - and other reasonable consumers - might feel misled if a food containing GMOs or HFCS is marketed as 'natural', he has a case, adds Prochnow.
"And then it's down to who the judge believes. And this is why so many of these cases are being settled...
"Companies look at it and decide is it really worth spending two years fighting and what could be a million dollars or more on a case that we probably have a 50:50 chance of winning."
Click here to read about the class action lawsuit filed against Pepperidge Farm last week over 'natural' claims on Goldfish crackers.