Natural is the opposite of artificial or synthetic, right? It’s something that isn’t altered or created by humankind rather something that comes from nature…… I think!
As I’ve often said, folks, it’s all in the words! Something as simple as the word “natural” is under heavy scrutiny because of slick advertising being used on food labels that confuses consumers as to what the product is.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment asking if it’s appropriate to define the word “natural”, if so, how FDA should define the word “natural”, and to decide how the agency should determine appropriate use of “natural” on food labels.
I have to stop here for a moment and say, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME”?
FDA doesn’t know if it’s appropriate, how to define the word natural, or determine appropriate use on labels? Reminds me of a quote from Alice In Wonderland ~~~ “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here”.
Phew… Sorry folks, I had a moment, sarcasm kicked in!
How many products in the grocery store shout out a reference in some type or form of the word “natural”? As a consumer, is your purchase influenced by a shout out such as “all natural”? If you say yes, you aren’t alone in your thinking. Most consumers are filled with a picture that the product came from a producer who supplied them with something that was raised or grown in its most natural state.
The Gospel according to the FDA website
“From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
FDA shares food labeling oversight with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA is in charge of the use of “natural” on meat and poultry labeling. According to the Gospel of USDA –
“A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”)”.
The ambiguous meaning of “natural” as defined by regulations leaves consumers unprotected and confused. Is it unreasonable for consumers to depend upon food labeling and have confidence in government agency oversight that ensures a product is actually what it claims? Using the word “natural” on food labeling only refers to processing of the food not where it came from or how it was grown. Most consumers do not know this!
A good example to ponder can be found in poultry. According to USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
“Poultry is not injected with water, but some water is absorbed during cooling in a chill-tank, a large vat of cold, moving water. The chill-tank lowers the temperature of the slaughtered birds and their giblets (hearts, livers, gizzards, etc.). During this water chilling process, turkeys and chickens will absorb some of the water, and this amount must be prominently declared on the label. It is not unusual for poultry to declare 8 to 12% retained water on the label.”
This so called “chill-tank” is referred to by some as the “fecal soup bath” whereby processed chickens are dumped into a large tank or vat to cool down the carcass. Akin to ground beef derived from many different cows mixed up together for packaging and shipped out for consumption, thousands of chicken carcasses co-mingle in the chill-tank. The most commonly used type of anti-bacterial/microbial to prevent cross contamination of the co-mingling chickens is chlorine, however there are many other products on the market approved for use. Chlorine does not exist naturally on our plant, it is made by humankind.
Yet I see many poultry products on the market with the words “natural” or “all natural” in large bold letters on the packaging. Here is where the pondering comes in. If chicken carcasses retain 8-12 percent water from processing (not naturally occurring original body water) the end product is altered. Furthermore, in that chill-tank water that is retained from processing is some type of humanly added anti-bacterial/microbial that is not a natural derivative of our planet. That would make the end product further altered from its natural state.
I suppose USDA’s ambiguous wording referring to the use of the word “natural” on meat and poultry labels absolves poultry products from not being “natural” under the term of “minimal processing” but for the life of me I can’t figure out how poultry products get around the term of “no artificial ingredients”.
There you have it folks! In reality the word “natural” on food labeling is worthless and cannot be depended upon to really mean something. Most of the food you eat is processed in some manner and therefore is no longer really “natural”.
To avoid years of studies, recommendations, and argument, not to mention waste of countless taxpayer dollars, why not just prohibit the use of the words “natural” and “all natural” on all food products or labels. If the food industry insists on a definition to continue with marketing ploys for food products, wouldn’t it be less wasted time and much less costly to simply look the word up in the dictionary?
My next question would be why do we need two different federal agencies governing food labels?