WHAT, EXACTLY, IS “NATURAL?”
Who can use it: Anyone can put the term “natural” (or “all natural”) on most foods, since the Food and Drug Administration has no formal definition of the term and doesn’t regulate it or really police it. So far, according to the agency, it has “not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” The one exception: meats and poultry, which are regulated by a different organization, the US Department of Agriculture.
What it means: According to the USDA, meat and poultry that has “no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed may be labeled natural.”
The term “naturally raised” is a voluntary (read: unregulated) label that means livestock have been raised without antibiotics and growth hormones and have not been fed animal by-products.
The benefits: Foods labeled “natural” should not contain synthetic food dyes. Recent studies have linked synthetic food dyes with hyperactivity in children and even with cancer—enough to cause CSPI to call for a ban on synthetic dyes (ones that appear with a number after them, such as Blue 1 and 2 or Yellow 5 and 6) recently. This doesn’t mean all our food will become duller: plenty of natural colorants abound.
What it doesn’t mean: Since there is little policing on the term “natural” it’s best to read the label to see what is really in your food. For instance, the Tostito’s claim “All Natural” (shown here) is true—Tostito’s Natural Corn Chips are made with only organic (non-GM) corn, corn oil and salt. However “natural” in no way implies any product is organic, local, or humanely-raised.
Check out a great article from Esse Johnson about “Flavor Additives & FDA’s Definition Of “Natural Flavorings”