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'Natural' products often fail to live up to their labels

Posted March 22, 2016
Updated March 23, 2016

'Natural' products often fail to live up to their labels

Shopping for so-called natural foods is commonplace, but many consumers may not be aware of what food labels really mean.

Consumer Reports surveyed people who buy processed foods labeled "natural," and most people assume no toxic pesticides, artificial ingredients or colorings were used. Consumers also think "natural" foods are without GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.

The truth, however, is that the natural label doesn't mean any of that. There are no government labeling standards, and manufacturers are allowed to use artificial ingredients in processed foods labeled natural.

"Without oversight or a legal definition, the 'natural' label can be little more than a marketing tool can fool consumer," Consumer Reports' Urvashi Rangan said.

Wesson vegetable oil is labeled "pure and 100 percent natural," but according to the company, it's made from genetically modified soybeans.

Del Monte Fruit Naturals contains the artificial preservatives potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, which are made from industrial chemicals.

Del Monte did not respond to Consumer Reports' questions about its ingredients.

Kraft Natural cheese contains a mold inhibitor called natamycin. Kraft also failed to respond to Consumer Reports' questions.

“We believe that, for processed foods, the natural label should mean organic plus no artificial ingredients," Rangan said. "There should be verification required – just like there is for the organic label — so consumers can be assured of what they are buying.”

Consumer Reports wants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to either ban the term natural or define it in a meaningful way. As a result, the Consumers Union is asking the public to weigh in on how the term natural should or shouldn't be used on food labels. Submit feedback online.


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