“Natural” Labeling Misleads More Than Half of Americans

CC BY 2.0. Laura D'Alessandro

A new survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center finds that 59 percent of American shoppers check for a “natural” label when food shopping, despite the fact that there is no federal or third-party standard for this term.

The survey also asked shoppers what they thought a food labeled “natural” meant. Eight out of ten respondents said that natural foods should be grown without pesticides, should have no genetically modified organisms, and should not contain artificial ingredients. However, a food may have all of these characteristics and still legally be labeled “natural.”

In order to avoid the qualities listed above, shoppers should look for USDA-certified organic products. However, the survey finds that there’s a large amount of confusion between the “natural” and “organic” labels. Many sustainable-food advocates feel that the “natural” label is used as a greenwashing technique.

The good news is that many American shoppers expressed concern about a number of food-related issues. The survey found that 92 percent of Americans care about supporting local farmers, 89 percent care about protecting the environment from chemicals, 87 percent care about reducing exposure to pesticides and 80 percent care about good living conditions for animals.

“Let’s clean up the green noise in the food label marketplace so Americans can get what they want: truthful labels that represent important and better food production systems,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Executive Director, Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center in a press statement.

To help reduce label confusion, Consumer Reports is launching a new public-awareness campaign. Consumer Reports is partnering with Take Part to lobby to ban the “natural” label on food. They’ve authored a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, which at the time of publication has gained 1,053 signatures.