Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

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.

which way do i go 2I 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!
Moving on…..

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?

Comments on: "Pondering the Word “Natural”" (8)

  1. Well Carole having 2 agencies in charge of one thing always gives on an out..the not me it is him behind the tree kinda deal..

    All natural…hmmmm…commercial broilers are fed low doses of synthetic drugs for most of their lives..maybe an antibiotic..maybe not… but all get some sort of pharmacuetical…it would seem it definitely alters the end product..keeps it alive….

    Anyway when you get this worked out call me..

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    • I don’t think I’ll ever get it worked out, JC! Confusing the public is what is done best in Washington, DC.

      My thoughts on the 2 agencies in charge of doing the same thing – Our country is broke, no dollars! Why aren’t we finding ways to eliminate duplicate work? In my way of thinking, it’s common sense. Most of us are on a tight budget, personally. We eliminate things that we might like to have, but aren’t really necessary.

      I pay my taxes, faithfully, but reluctantly. LOL It never fails that we have to rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. That means cutting things that aren’t necessary.

      On a personal note, I took my first really wonderful vacation in 7 years at the beginning of December. Why seven years? Lot’s of work and responsibilities.

      When researching for this blog post I ran across a statement about FDA saying something to the effect that the money hasn’t been in the budget and it wasn’t a priority to look at the word “natural” on food products. That is an excuse for not doing what is supposed to be done and is expected to be done by consumers. You know – the good ole work and responsibility theory!

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  2. sageywoman said:

    Years ago when I used to sell at my first local farmers market I called my gardens Rose OSharnes from a nickname I got from “The Grapes of Wrath” This was before the USDA got involved in the certification buisness . I change my garden’s name to Sharon’s Natural Gardens so I would not get embroiled in the word soup., thinking it said things simply. I now only sell foods to folks who come to the garden and lately people also have to help do the work so they can truely see and experience how the foods are grown .I teach gardening . I hatch and raise my own poultry. It takes a 4 person team to process them and only a few are done in a day . One person takes the bird from the pen and takes its life, another dips the bird in the hot waterand pulls the feathers, another person cleans it’s inside and a 4th person (me )does the final cleaning and packing . Each bird is done carefully and separately . They are raised with just as much care . This is how I raise food for my family and how all meat animals should be raised and handled. They are fed organic soy free feeds as well as herbs grown in my gardens and raised on pasture with a safe, clean dry place to sleep at night . Its about as natural as I can do .I do not raise them to sell but if I did it would cost $30-$35/bird and that is paying myself only min wage.

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    • Sageywoman,

      I’ve often wondered if we added up all of the externalized costs what the real cost of “cheap chicken” would be. Not that we will ever get a straight answer from industry or government.
      Cost share programs, manure transport programs, subsidies, environmental cleanup, etc.. All paid for with taxpayer dollars. I’m only naming a few items that are handed out to industry, just in the state of Maryland. If you look at federal dollars it is way much more. Adding up all of these things would probably bring industrial “cheap chicken” up to $35.

      As small independent farmers we are not eligible for all of the handouts! The way you raise your chickens is the real “natural” however federal agencies have decided to alter the definition of the word. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could just simply change the meaning of something if we didn’t like what it really is?

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      • The most assinine government program is federal guaranteed loans for poultry houses…when you have chicken houses that are in the process of being foreclosed on with guaranteed loans why would you issue more of the same…and it is my understanding banks won’t touch a poultry loan without that fed guarantee…so how can this be a solid biz for a farmer when these operations have to have a fed guarantee to get off the ground…good deal for the banks..mostly the Farm Credits…who are accessories to the crime..

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      • Carole Morison said:

        JC, isn’t that something like predatory lending?

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  3. Carole, you are spot on. Why is it that no one wants to get down to the real issues but i find it here on your blog? Is everyone besides you sleeping or just stupid?

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    • Carole Morison said:

      Jess,
      I don’t think it’s a matter of stupidity rather a matter of the sneaking in of amendments to legislation that has nothing to do with the issue. To keep an eye on both Federal and State legislation to observe what is being amended into any piece of legislation would take at least one person in every state and at the federal level you would need a whole office full of people. Non-profit organizations run on public and private funding and are stretched thin. On the other hand industry has the money to pay lobbyists to do nothing but roam the halls of legislatures and get what industry wants. Everything runs on money and power regardless of what the people want. Until the people can match the pot, so to speak, those with the highest stakes get what they want.

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