A friend and I were recently talking about school lunch ideas. She mentioned that she uses Nature Valley granola bars as a school lunch staple because they are 100% natural. I was sad to have to tell her that “100% natural” on the front of a box can mean absolutely nothing. She was shocked (as well she should be) and she asked me for more information about this disturbing issue. I thought you might want to hear the scoop too.
The FDA has no definition of “100% natural” but does not object to the term being used on products “provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances”. Well, apparently there are food manufacturers who think natural means “made in a lab” or “ingredient that started off as natural but has undergone endless processing”.
There have been many lawsuits over this issue. ConAgra was sued because it marketed Wesson cooking oils as “100% natural” even though the oils contain genetically modified ingredients. Snapple Iced Tea was sued because it used the term natural despite the fact that the iced tea contained high fructose corn syrup. Cadbury Schweppes and Kraft were sued for the use of the term ‘natural’ on 7Up and Capri Sun products too. And most recently, Nature Valley has been sued because some of its products are marketed as 100% natural but contain maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup and high maltose corn syrup which are all highly processed ingredients that do not exist in nature.
Cadbury Schweppes and Kraft changed their labels before legal action was taken. But, Snapple Iced Tea was not required by the courts to change its labeling because of the FDA’s lack of definition for the term natural. The FDA has said that legally defining the 100% natural term is not currently a priority for the agency as consumers can read the ingredients on labels. It will be interesting to see if the Nature Valley lawsuit pushes the issue any further.
I’m sure you’ve heard about California’s Proposition 37, which would require all foods with Genetically Modified Organisms to be labeled as containing GMO’s. This is a critical issue because if this passes in California, all food producers which sell nationally will have to change their packaging and labels. Not because they have to, but because making special packaging only for sales in the state of California wouldn’t be practical. If the FDA refuses to regulate the term ‘natural’ then with this law we would at least know if the product contains GMO’s. This law would also prohibit the ‘natural’ claim on those foods labeled as containing GMO’s. Certified Organic products would be exempt from this law.
In the meantime, as consumers, we need to be clear that “100% natural” on the front of a package is not a reason to buy a product without reading its ingredient list first. Our Zing bars say 100% natural because our ingredients really are 100% natural – you can actually recognize what they are! We use no GMO’s in our products, and take pride in using ingredients you can pronounce. However, not all manufacturers are interested in the same level of transparency. Their products can say 100% natural, but your job is to read the ingredients which are required by the FDA to be listed on labels.
What does the term ‘natural’ mean to you?