Consumer Reports: Ban “Natural” on Food and Beverage Labels

100 percent naturalConsumers are increasingly seeking out foods and beverages labeled as “natural,” but their expectations for the term are often at odds with what is actually delivered, according to Consumer Reports, which recently conducted a national survey that assessed consumer opinion on food labeling.

The well-known consumer advocacy group found that “the majority of consumers think that the natural or organic label on packaged and processed foods  currently means that no pesticides, artificial ingredients or chemicals, or genetically modified  ingredients were used; an even greater amount of consumers feel that this labeling should indicate this.”

And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration broadly defines “natural” as “nothing artificial or synthetic” added, the federal agency has yet to develop a formal definition for use of the term or its derivatives, such as “all-natural,” Consumer Reports said in a recent statement. As a result, the organization is pressing for a ban of the word “natural” on food and beverage labels.

“Our findings show consumers expect much more from ‘natural’ food labels and that there is a strong consumer mandate for better food production practices in general and food label standards that meet a higher bar,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Executive Director, Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, said in a statement.

Consumer Reports conducted the survey in April and polled 1,004 U.S. adults via random-digit dialing and phone interviews. The group noted that the data “were statistically weighted so that respondents in the survey were demographically and geographically representative of the U.S. population.”

In addition to findings regarding consumers’ views on the term “natural,” data from the survey also indicated that Americans are seeking greater label transparency with regard to animal welfare, antibiotic use, genetically modified ingredients and organic farming.

Seeking to inform consumers about food-related packaging, Consumer Reports today introduced a campaign in partnership with TakePart, a social action platform. The campaign includes an ongoing series on its website called “Know your food, know your labels” as well as a petition titled “Stop Confusing Consumers: Ban the ‘Natural’ Label.” The petition urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to drop “the misleading ‘natural’ label from food once and for all!”

Consumer Reports will deliver its official petition to the government later this week, and is planning for a day-long conference on labeling that will take place in San Francisco in September.