Consumer Group Wants to Kill 'Natural' Label

Consumer Reports says food labels confuse consumers and based on a new poll they see a need for label clarity.

Published on: Jun 17, 2014

In the ag business, farmers know the 'natural' label used by food companies is more of a marketing tool than anything else. Turns out Consumer Reports National Research Center agrees. The organization released a poll this week revealing that 59% of consumers check to see if products they're buying are "natural" despite "there being no federal or third-party verified label for this term," the organization says.

The poll, conducted by phone, was administered by Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, N.J. The survey sample included 1,004 adults and half the respondents were women. The respondents were selected by random-digital dialing. Conducted April 17 to 21, the group says "data were statistically weighted so that respondents in the survey were demographically and geographically representative of the U.S. population.

Consumer Reports says food labels confuse consumers and based on a new poll they see a need for label clarity.
Consumer Reports says food labels confuse consumers and based on a new poll they see a need for label clarity.

The group notes that not only do a majority of consumers polled think the natural label actually carries specific benefits, an even greater number of consumers think it should. The survey revealed that more than 8 out of 10 consumers believe that packaged foods labeled "natural" should come from food that contains ingredients grown without pesticides, don't include artificial ingredients and do not contain genetically modified organisms. That information reinforces "a wide gap between consumer reality and consumer expectations," the group says.

The organization's answer: ban the "natural" label. The organization has joined with TakePart, a social action platform, to ban the use of the label. You can learn more about what the group wants by visiting takepart.com/food-labels.

That Consumer Report's poll shows new data on what consumers expect from a wide range of food labels including "fair trade," "humane," "organic," "raised without antibiotics" and "country of origin."

In a media release announcing poll results, Urashi Rangan, executive director, Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, says: "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. Due to overwhelming and ongoing consumer confusion around the 'natural' food label, we are launching a new campaign to kill the 'natural' label because our poll underscores that it is misleading, confusing and deceptive. We truly don't believe there is a way to define it that will meet all of consumer's expectations."

Consumer Reports says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't developed a formal definition of the term "natural" yet the agency does not object 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 not normally expected to be in the food." USDA says a product is "natural" if it contains "no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product."

It's that consumer perception that "natural" means more that has Consumer Reports pushing ahead with its campaign. They call the labeling "green noise" and ending the use of the term "natural" would give consumers "truthful labels that represent important and better food production systems," Rangan says.

More poll results >>