Reach into your pantry or refrigerator and choose any packaged food item. The most common scenario is that it is plastered with marketing claims like sugar free or immunity boosting. Or perhaps, one of my least favorite terms, all natural. The reason why I dislike it is because it means absolutely nothing and is only used to deceive buyers into believing the food item is healthy.
You will see a lot of foods labeled as natural or all natural. It sounds good. Many people think this means something similar to organic. In some consumer polls, the term natural or all natural has even garnered more consumer confidence than organic certification. But unlike organic, which requires USDA inspections and certification, the term natural is mostly meaningless marketing. No government agency, certification group, or other independent authority defines the term on packaging or ensures the claim is truthful.
The FDA is in charge of oversight of the use of marketing slogans on food packaging, certainly a difficult task. Unfortunately, despite significant use of the natural or all natural label claims, the group has not defined these terms to standardize their use. The FDA has said it has no problem with these claims if the food products refrain from using food coloring, artificial flavors, or any synthetic additive.
In theory, that sounds like a decently healthy standard. However, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), plants and minerals with high metal content, and more can be used in natural foods. Unfortunately, without a true definition, oversight, or a verification process, it is difficult to put much faith in the natural claim if any producer can put it on its packaging with no consequences. Not to mention, any definition that claims something is natural while accepting GMOs as such carries no weight in my mind.
Left to their own devices, food manufacturers have created their own meanings of these claims, which has led to many misleading claims and confusion among consumers. The number of scandals the food industry has experienced is countless. While I believe consumers should be more vigilant, these companies should not be allowed to make their own definitions.
Despite the government’s lack of action on these label claims, consumer groups are taking action, which is refreshing to see. Tired of being lied to and exposed to dangerous ingredients, consumers are holding food manufacturers’ feet to the fire. Food manufacturers and retailers have had to defend themselves against a host of significant lawsuits, and have lost quite a few. This is a trend that I expect to persist.
I recommend always reading the ingredients list rather than the marketing claims. The fewer ingredients, the better. Also, if you don’t need your chemistry book to figure out what the ingredient is, that’s a good sign as well. I urge you to do your homework to understand what’s in our food supply and the dangers of some ingredients. Currently, it’s on us to police these food companies because the government is asleep at the table.