‘Natural’ means whatever food marketers want it to mean, says new organic food campaign

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

A still from one of the new campaign videos ...
A still from one of the new campaign videos ...

Related tags Organic food

What do genetically engineered soybeans, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and chickens raised with the use of antibiotics all have in common? They are all in products that come with ‘all-natural’ labels. 

Now arguably of course, there’s nothing remotely ‘natural’ about many conventional (non-GMO) crop breeding techniques, while corn refiners would argue that sugar from beets is no more ‘natural’ than HFCS.

However, many organic food producers - who are subject to very stringent rules, unlike firms using the term ‘natural’ on food labels - feel that consumers are being duped, and that 'natural' - the most emotive word in food marketing - is being used and abused by opportunistic marketers.

To remind consumers that ‘organic’ means something concrete, whereas 'natural' is rather more nebulous*, Annie’s, Earthbound Farms, Organic Valley, Rudi’s, and Stonyfield Farm - among others - have teamed up to launch a new campaign.

Organic means something concrete; natural is rather more nebulous…

In videos developed by non-profit Organic Voices, shoppers are told that organic foods are subject to stringent environment and animal welfare standards enforced by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), while natural claims are not underpinned by anything except non-legally-binding guidance* from the FDA - which, they claim, is not being enforced.

“Foods made with the use of toxic persistent pesticides and even genetically engineered ingredients are being labeled as natural,” ​said Stonyfield Farm chairman Gary Hirshberg.

Lewis Goldstein, Vice President of Brand Marketing at Organic Valley, added: “Many consumers mistakenly believe that foods labeled as ‘natural’ are better than food that has been certified as organic.” 

The public needs new tools to understand the benefits of organic and to be able to distinguish between organic foods and all other unverified claims​,” said Laura Batcha, executive director of the Organic Trade Association.

Watch all the campaign videos below:

* FDA guidance from the early 1990s says natural means “nothing artificial or synthetic - including all color additives regardless of source - has been included in or added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food”.

Click here​ for more information about the new campaign.

Click here​ for all over coverage on 'natural' claims (and lawsuits).

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