You may think "natural" on a food label means all the ingredients can be found in nature. You would be wrong.
Consumer Reports says many food manufacturers are putting the word "natural" on all kinds of packaged foods because of false beliefs.
The magazine surveyed American shoppers and found a majority who buy processed foods labeled "natural" assume they were made no toxic pesticides, artificial ingredients and colorings, or GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Almost half of those surveyed mistakenly think their food has been independently verified as "natural."
"The problem is the "natural" label doesn't guarantee any of this. There are no government standards," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability for Consumer Reports. "Without oversight or a legal definition, the "natural" label can be little more than a marketing tool that can fool consumers."
Manufacturers know the term "natural" on labels help sell products, even if the food contains artificial ingredients.
Consumer Reports looked at a couple of products that use the term "natural" on their labels.
Wesson vegetable oil is labeled "pure and 100 percent natural." However, the company says the product is made from genetically modified soybeans.
Del Monte Fruit Naturals contain potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, two artificial preservatives made from industrial chemicals.
Kraft Natural cheese contains natamycin, a mold inhibitor. While natamycin is a naturally occurring antifungal agent, it is not naturally found in cheese.
Neither Del Monte, nor Kraft responded to Consumer Reports' questions about the ingredients in their products.
"We believe that for processed foods, the "natural" label should mean organic plus no artificial ingredients," said Dr. Rangan. "There should be verification required - just like there is for the 'organic' label - so consumers can be assured of what they are buying."
What Dr. Rangan means by verification is a manufacturer who wants to use the "USDA Organic" label must independently-verify that their product meets federal government guidelines on what pesticides, antibiotics, and additives manufacturers are allowed to put in their foods.
Consumer Reports wants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to either ban the term "natural" on labels or else define it in a meaningful way, similar to how the term "organic" is used.
The FDA is now asking the public to weigh in on how "natural" should or shouldn't be used on food labels.
You can offer your opinion at ConsumersUnion.org/natural.