Consumer Reports: Some 'Natural' food labels may be misleading

If you like to buy so-called "natural" foods for your family, you may not always be getting what you think.

A new survey from Consumer Reports finds that almost two-thirds of shoppers say they usually look for foods that say they are "natural."

You see the word "natural" labeled on all kinds of packaged foods. But what exactly does it mean? Consumer Reports decided to find out.

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.

"I look for natural because I feel its healthier," said one shopper.

And 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, Ph. D.

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," said Dr. Rangan.

For example, 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, 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," said Dr. Rangan.

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.

You can offer your opinion on the Consumers Union website.
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