January 13, 2013

Organic vs. Natural

Food labels can be perplexing enough. With the growing number of companies looking to jump on the “all natural” bandwagon, they're becoming more confusing than ever.

When grocery shopping, most people just want to eat the best quality, healthiest options that fit into their budget. Unfortunately, some companies are preying on that desire by increasing prices on products that have undergone no other changes than a spruced up label with the word “natural” on them. That is why it is important for consumers to know the real difference between natural and organic.

For a product to be certified organic, farmers and manufacturers must meet specific guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA-certified organic meat, dairy and egg products must come from animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and fed a diet free of animal by-products, fertilizers, pesticides and genetically engineered food. USDA-certified organic produce must be grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetically modified seeds for at least three years. Processed foods must contain 95% certified organic ingredients for a manufacturer to be able use the USDA organic label. All certifications are verified by an independent agency.

Although the natural or all natural label is used often on a variety of different foods, it is essential a meaningless term. The USDA allows meat and chicken to be labeled as natural as long as nothing, such as flavoring or coloring, has been added after slaughter, but even this meek standard is not third-party verified. The USDA and the FDA do not regulate the term natural for any other food or personal care products. Therefore, anyone can use the natural label without having to meet any type of verifiable standard.

A recent survey by the Shelton Group, an advertising agency, found that the majority of consumers believe the term natural to be federally regulated. In fact, respondents had more trust in the natural label, than the term organic, which they believed to be “a fancy way of saying expensive.” Many companies today are taking advantage of this misconception by using the term natural as a marketing ploy. These companies are not just duping customers, but they are undermining the organic industry. Foods labeled natural tend to cost less than organic food. Consumers, thinking they are getting better food for their money, opt for the natural label thus directing money toward crafty packaging rather than actual greener, healthier foods.

The only way to stop this “greenwashing” is to become better informed consumers. Read labels carefully and know which are truly greener options.


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