Eating "natural" foods sounds healthy, but the truth about how healthy those foods actually are may be surprising. 7 On Your Side has partnered with Consumer Reports for this exclusive coverage on natural food labeling.
If you shop for foods labeled natural, you're not alone. A new survey from Consumer Reports finds that almost two-thirds of shoppers say they usually look for foods that say they are natural. Consumer Reports says it doesn't necessarily mean what you think.
The buzzword at supermarkets these days is natural. It's on all kinds of packaged foods. A Consumer Reports survey of American shoppers finds most people who buy processed foods labeled natural assume no toxic pesticides were used, or artificial ingredients and colorings, or GMOs, genetically modified organisms.
Almost half of those surveyed mistakenly think this has been independently verified.
"The problem is, the natural label doesn't guarantee any of this. There are no government standards," said Urvashi Rangan, of Consumer Reports.
In fact, manufacturers are allowed to use artificial ingredients in processed foods and label them natural.
"Without oversight or a legal definition, the natural label can be little more than a marketing tool that can fool consumers," Rangan said.
For example, Wesson Vegetable Oil is labeled "pure and 100 percent natural," but according to the company, it's made from genetically modified soybeans.
A Del Monte Fruit Naturals contains the artificial preservatives potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, made from industrial chemicals. Del Monte did not respond to questions about the ingredients. And Kraft natural cheese contains a mold inhibitor, natamycin. Kraft did not respond to questions either.
"We believe that for processed foods, the natural label should mean organic, plus no artificial ingredients. And there should be verification required, just like there is for the organic label, so consumers can be assured of what they are buying," Rangan said.
Consumer Reports wants the Food and Drug Administration to either ban the term natural, or else define it in a meaningful way. As a result, the FDA is now asking the public to weigh in on how natural should or shouldn't be used on food labels.
Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.
(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2014. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)