Yonder younger years, when I was a wee one curious about all things in the natural world, I was full of quarrelous quandries for my poor mum: “What is superfluous?” “What does ironic mean?” “How would you explain redundant to someone?” Looking back, I can appreciate the intrinsic value in her rote answer:

“Look it up.”

Her advice served me well through college and beyond. I became a verified reference book junkie, and for one Christmas all I wanted was the complete, unabridged, Oxford English Dictionary. Here’s what I got:

my dearly cherished complete, unabridged, Oxford English Dictionary printed so small that it comes with a magnifying glass!
my dearly cherished complete, unabridged, Oxford English Dictionary printed so small that it comes with a magnifying glass!

So, FDA, if you really want to know how to define “natural”, I will give you the same advice. Look it up. Oh, maybe you don’t have a copy of the OED? That’s okay. I’ll read it for you:

“1.1 Of law and justice: based upon the innate moral feeling of mankind; instinctively meant to be right and fair though not prescribed by any enactment or formal compact.” 

So even the very act of defining “natural” is an unnatural act? Oh, that’s not the definition you were looking for? Let’s try another:

“b. Of substances or articles: Not made, manufactured, or obtained by artificial processes. Also sometimes applied to simple products in contrast to those requiring more elaborate preparation.”

Simple enough, FDA. That means NO additives, NO artificial dyes, flavors or fillers. Wow – that would put a lot of companies out of business like “I can’t believe it’s not butter”, “Miracle Whip”, Kraft “Easy Cheese”, and Kellogg’s “Frosted Blue Raspberry Pop Tarts” – oh no!

“d. Of vegetation: Growing of itself; self-sown or planted; not introduced artificially.”

Does this also negate the Monsanto loophole for considering GMO foods “natural”?

Or maybe you’d like to do to our food what G.D. Read did for defining “natural childbirth” in 1930:

“Methods of relaxation and of physical co-operation with the natural process of childbirth…with minimal medical or technological intervention.”

(The underlying assumption here is that by 1930, modern medical science had led us so far afield that we had forgotten what “natural” childbirth had been for hundreds of thousands of years….hmmmmm….something smells fishy….)

What?! Now you’re saying my fish aren’t even natural?

Maybe they are, it’s just that the company that caught and packaged the stacks of canned tuna that I get from the food bank didn’t want to pay the premium soon to be required by law to use the word “natural” on their packaging. Just like the USDA did for “organic”:

chemical carrot

As it turns out, the FDA already has a general policy regarding whether or not something is considered “natural”:

The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that 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 that food.  However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”

The GOOD NEWS: According to this CBS news report, 80% of consumers prefer to spend a little more for organic and natural foods. And, if you want a quick peek on how your shopping list stacks up to healthy choices for your family, you can go to the Environmental Working Group’s website and peruse their Food Scores, Dirty Dozen or Shopper’s Guide for reliable food safety and chemical components ratings.

Here’s my proposal, FDA:

Rather than defining, trademarking and enforcing the arbitrary use of the word “natural” – which inevitably leads to overhead requiring registration, investigation and a massive financial burden to anyone who wants to tout their products as natural, enforce the exact opposite: require every manufacturer who uses anything artificial, synthetic or chemical in their food production to label their products as “unnatural”, and charge them a fee. Consumers will easily be able to tell the difference without spending any extra time at the grocery store examining labels for ingredients they can’t pronounce.

At the outset, the FDA will make more money by penalizing the big-business players in the food industry, you will have implemented a standard that increases awareness among consumers and protects their health all at the same time. Producers of foods that are truly “natural” will be allowed to flourish without the burden of proof, unless specifically pointed out by consumers, at which point they will have to furnish sufficient evidence that their product is 100% natural, which will also mean organic, which will also mean non-GMO.

Awesome. I should have been a lawyer. 😉

It doesn't take a magnifying glass to tell which one of these items is NOT natural...
It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to tell which one of these items is NOT natural…

What do you think? Is it worthwhile to participate in the FDA’s call to action? Is this a trustworthy attempt at sound policy making? Do they really have our best interest at heart, or does “natural” eventually come down to “less than 2%” of the following artificial ingredients?

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3 thoughts on “Why I’m boycotting the FDA’s attempt to define “natural”

  1. I’m with you – the FDA can’t be trusted to actually put consumers ahead of big business. It would be more helpful if the FDA actually made companies explain what all those unpronounceable ingredients are… also, get ride of the “natural flavors” catch all!!!

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thank you for sharing your comment and for following the Holistic Homestead. I hope we can create enough momentum to manifest real change in government policy regarding the safety of our food supply. Blessings to you in the new year, Arwen

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