In US, 'natural' food may be anything but

2014-02-05 08:32
There is a national debate on natural foods in the US. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

There is a national debate on natural foods in the US. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - In the US, pre-packaged foods loaded with artificial ingredients and chemicals can make it onto grocery store shelves boasting the label "natural".

Why? Because in America, there is no definition of "natural".

This gray area has led consumer advocates to threaten lawsuit after lawsuit against big food giants, alleging that their claims are misleading and illegal.

"There are just too damn many 'natural' lawsuits," said lawyer Stephen Gardner of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), estimating there have been around 50 in the past decade.

"It only scratches the surfaces of the number of companies that are making these claims. We keep coming across them," he said.

Some lawsuits have been merely threatened by CSPI, and eventually settled out of court after the company agreed to change labelling.

'Natural' flavour

Others have been filed by private parties seeking class action payouts.

The latest involves Kraft Foods, maker of Crystal Light powdered drink mixes which contain artificial sweeteners and colours, a texturiser called maltodextrin and a synthetic preservative called butylated hydroxyanisole.

In January, CSPI notified Kraft of its intent to sue if the word "natural" continues to appear on products like Natural Lemonade and Natural Lemon Iced Tea.

Gardner said talks with the company are ongoing, but given his experience - he first sued Kraft over similar claims on its Capri Sun drinks in 2007 - he expects Kraft to counter that the word "natural" relates to the flavour.

"I am not aware of a lemonade flavour. I am aware of lemon," Gardner said.

Asked for comment, a Kraft spokesperson said that a federal judge in California recently dismissed a similar claim against Crystal Light.

"Our products are clearly and accurately labelled with information that is both truthful and helpful for consumers," spokesperson Caroline Krajewski said in an e-mail.

Definition

Foods that claim to be "natural" but clearly are not can slip past authorities because the main US regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration, has not formally defined "natural".

However, the regulator has sent several warning letters to companies in the past, said FDA spokesperson Theresa Eisenman.

"Although the FDA has not established a formal definition for the term 'natural', we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of 'natural' in food labelling," she said.

"The FDA considers the term 'natural' to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all colour 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."

The FDA has left Crystal Light alone, and consumer groups complain that regulators are not aggressive enough, leaving plenty of room for corporations to exploit well-meaning shoppers who appear to be susceptible to packaging claims.

According to the market research firm Nielsen, "natural" products produce over $22bn in annual sales.

A full 77% of US consumers polled said they believe "natural" claims at least some of the time, and 9% said they always do.

Despite the high volume of lawsuits, the matters often settle out of court and corporations avoid big payouts, said Gardner.

"We stop them, but they get to keep the money they stole from consumers by fraud," he said.
Read more on:    health

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.