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More than half (59 percent) of consumers check if the products they're buying are "natural," despite there being no federal label for this term, according to a new survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
And while a majority of people think the “natural” label actually carries specific benefits, the study found, an even greater percentage of consumers think it should.
Additionally, eight in 10 consumers believe packaged foods carrying the "natural" label should come from food that contains ingredients grown without pesticides (86 percent), do not include artificial ingredients (87 percent), and do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (85 percent), reinforcing the gap between reality and expectations.
“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,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director, Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center. Rangan added that the term is "misleading, confusing, and deceptive."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not developed a formal definition for use of the term “natural” or its derivatives. Yet the agency has not objected to the use of the term if “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”
Consumer Reports is seeking to quell the confusion by calling for a ban on the “natural” label on food as part of a campaign being launched in partnership with TakePart, a social action platform. Retailers can learn more about the campaign at takepart.com/food-labels.