You’re in the grocery store. You pick up a product. You look at the label. You see the word “natural.”
What on earth does that mean, “natural?”
Turns out Consumer Reports wanted the answer to that question, too – along with others about our attitudes when it comes to labeling. So they conducted a survey. And when it comes to “natural,” it turns out that many of us think it means more than it actually does.
Of 1,005 adults polled in December, nearly half incorrectly believed that natural claims on labels had been independently verified, and nearly two-thirds thought the “natural” label meant more than it does.
More, over 3/4 said that “natural” should mean no pesticides, chemicals, artificial ingredients, or colors. (Hint: Currently, it doesn’t.)
What this survey highlights is that the majority of us have higher expectations and want more – and clearer – information.
We Want Real Food Grown with a Conscience
The survey also showed that we value “a range of environmental, safety, and social responsibility objectives.” These include
- Supporting local farmers.
- Supporting companies with good working conditions/fair pay to workers.
- Reducing exposure to pesticides.
- Protecting the environment from chemicals.
- Providing better living conditions for animals.
- Reducing antibiotic use in food.
Additionally, most of us feel that labeling should include more specifics – and that we’d pay more for foods labeled “natural” if they actually met our expectations.
But food product companies seem to have a different agenda in mind.
Identify as a Citizen
Industry and government label us as “consumers.” We’re not mere “consumers,” taking valuable resources without giving back, but clearly that’s how food marketers see us. It’s in the manufacturers’ best interest to keep us dependent upon what they sell.
Another word for this is “infantilization.”
How do they accomplish this? Fat, salt, and sugar, packaged in bright packages that send our pleasure centers buzzing like a pinball machine. Step right up! It’s food entertainment!
But the good news is – as the Consumer Reports survey indicates – ever growing numbers of us are trying to support local economies, local farmers, and our environment while we keep a watchful eye out for workers, domesticated animals’ welfare, and ourselves.
In other words, we are becoming responsible citizens.
For “citizens” to make the best food decisions, we need clarity. Certainly, when it comes to food labels, the best food you can choose has no label. Your best choices for real food?
- Grow your own.
- Support farmer’s markets.
- Purchase Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares.
- Shop co-operative grocery markets.
Any, any, anything with a label has been processed or packaged and is a food product. If you buy them, by all means, read the labels. There’s good information to be found.
But don’t be fooled by the term “natural.”
Make Your Voice Heard
In 2014, Consumer Reports petitioned the FDA to ban “natural” on labels altogether. They also asked the USDA to ban the word on meat and poultry labels. Thanks to this and other consumer group petitions, the FDA has decided to look more closely at the issue.
And it has invited the public to comment on how the agency should define the term.
Though the original invite came back in November, the FDA extended the public comment period to give industry more time to respond. You can be sure they will.
But so can you. The window of opportunity is open until May 10, 2016 for you to flex your “citizen” muscle.
Image by Chris Durst, via Flickr