"100 percent natural" sounds wonderful. It conjures up pictures of small-town farmers and happy cows—but it means absolutely nothing. The term has no legal definition, according to the FDA, which means that food manufacturers can stick it on anything from organic kale to cookies.
This is why Urvashi Rangan, the director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, has been working for more than a decade to show consumers how misleading the "natural," "all natural," and "100 percent natural" labels are. Now Rangan and Consumer Reports are submitting formal petitions to the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban the label from food entirely.
In the past, people have attacked the label by suing individual companies for using it in what they saw as a dishonest manner, but rulings on individual cases have gone both ways, with no set standard in place to guide them.
The FDA has largely stayed out of the fight, saying only that calling a food "natural" is wrong if it contains artificial flavor, color, or other synthetic additives. This leaves antibiotics, GMOs, factory-farmed animals, pesticides, hydrogenated oils, added sugars (including high fructose corn syrup), and any other food additive originally derived from a plant or animal source as fair game. Consumer Reports argues that the main problem is that people often confuse "all natural" with "organic," when in fact food producers have to meet a set of very strict standards (some have even said too strict) to earn the "100 percent organic" label.
Critics acknowledge that the FDA could redefine "natural," but they say the process could take years and that since the FDA doesn't see it as a safety issue, they are unlikely to make it a priority. Rather, they say, it's time to just ban it all together.
What do you think? Should the term "all natural" be taken off labels? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!