Defining "Natural"

Defining "Natural"

According to Merriam-Webster, one definition of the word “Natural” is: “existing in or produced by nature: not artificial”. A somewhat vague definition but a good basis on which to build. It is with this definition, we the consumers form the standard for the food we eat, the products we use, even the clothes we wear. Has definitive clarification of this word by a governmental agency ever been warranted? And which agency do we trust to define this word? In 2007, when petitioned by the Sugar Association and CSPI, the FDA refused to define the word “Natural” citing they had "other priorities for their limited resources". Interestingly the petition for definition came about because of the real sugar vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup debate. To date, there is no formal US Government regulated definition for the term. In the past year or so, we in the natural industry have heard quite a lot of talk on the “natural” subject ranging from seminars and webinars to newsletter and trade publications articles. Talk is always a good thing however, this topic can be quite the “Pandora’s Box” of issues.

And in Legal News...

Take the recent class action lawsuit filed in United States District Court – Central District of California. Robert Briseño vs. Conagra Foods, Inc. is a complaint for: 1. Violation of California Business & Professions Codes 17500 and 17200 2. Violation of California Civil Code 1750 3. Breach of Express Warranty Basically, Mr. Briseño has filed suit against ConAgra Foods alleging the cooking oils sold under the Wesson brand name including; Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil, and Best Blend and were labeled and sold as “100% Natural” were not indeed natural. The plaintiff maintains the Wesson Oils are made from genetically modified plants or genetically modified organisms and therefore cannot be natural. ConAgra has admitted to using GM’s in the production of these oils. Genetically modified plants in layman’s terms and as it pertains to this suit means the seeds used to grow the plants to make the oils were genetically engineered to, among other things, “allow for greater yield and to be resistant to pesticides”. While some may argue a plant that is resistant to pesticides might not be a bad idea, others are seriously concerned about the issues of engineered farming practices, especially considering there has been no testing done on the long-term effects of these seeds. I won’t bore you with the particulars (for more information, read entire complaint here), but this suit brings up a very important topic I would like to address. Since there is no clear definition of “natural”, should a company be allowed to use the term to market a product that hypothetically may be 90% synthetic? Common sense says no but, who is defining the synthetic ingredients? If no one is stating GMO’s are not natural, then did ConAgra really break any truth in labeling laws? Did they mislead the consumer? My personal opinion is a resounding yes.

Right and Wrong

As a consumer, I won’t apologize for wanting full disclosure on all the items I purchase. It would be wonderful if every manufacturer and distributor adhered to truth in labeling and marketing not because they have to but, because it is the ethical thing to do. Because they are in business for you, the consumer. Without you, they have no business. Is transparency really too much to ask? We at Plantlife work very hard not only sourcing our raw materials, but in ensuring we are completely up to date on the latest market news, trends and discussions regarding ingredients. We build working relationships with our vendors and constantly question the “where, who and how” of our raw materials. We don’t adhere to the “buy the cheapest ingredient available and don’t ask any questions” mentality. We don’t change vendors often because of the relationships we’ve built and the quality of goods they provide. We continually strive to make the products we use and you buy the highest caliber and freshest quality possible. Is it expensive? You bet. Is it worth it? Absolutely. What you see is what you get. We simply make our products out of the highest quality materials and list them clearly on all our labels. Because of the amount of work we put into this aspect of manufacturing, I find it disheartening when other companies intentionally mislead their customers in any manner including labeling and marketing. It’s a great lesson. Regardless of FDA, USDA or other governmental agencies involvement, we have to be informed consumers. We have to ask questions and do our homework if we truly want to know what goes into the goods we purchase. It’s exhausting to be sure, but well worth the effort for our long term health and wellness.
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