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The Word 'Natural,' like Our Food, Has Become Polluted

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page and our Myth of Natural page.

When it comes to demanding quality in our food, advocacy works.

I made appalling discoveries when I started to explore the ingredients inside the food I was buying. One of the most egregious discoveries was that food companies are getting away with slapping the word "natural" on food products that contain ingredients that are anything but that.

Change is possible but can't come quickly enough without government oversight. For example, after I learned that some companies are using ingredients approved for use in the U.S. that are banned or require a warning label in other countries, I campaigned to have them removed. Kraft and Subway have both removed ingredients I campaigned against, showing that consumer action does work. But it is gradual.

It also does not solve the overarching problem of false advertising under the label "natural." A litany of class-action lawsuits have been waged against products marketed as "natural" that contain G.M.O.'s - including Goldfish crackers, Naked Juice and Kashi Cereal - but as the F.D.A. does not designate G.M.O.'s as "unnatural," the best we can hope for is change from public pressure and the occasional settlement.

But even the advisory definition of "natural" is not enforceable. Earlier this year, Kraft defended the use of the world "natural" on different varieties of its Crystal Light product that contain artificial sweeteners, artificial colors (some made from petroleum products), and synthetic ingredients. They can call their product "natural" because there is no enforceable law against it.

The word "natural" has become polluted, just like our food system. Why do we need to keep suing companies to get them to tell the truth about their products? We've known since the time of Upton Sinclair that the food industry is not capable of regulating itself. We need the government to step in, define the word "natural" and enforce honest standards on behalf of consumers.