The "Natural" Label On Your Food Doesn't Mean What You Think It Does

A new survey by Consumer Reports shows that over 59% of Americans are looking for a "natural" label when shopping for their food. The problem? The label doesn't mean much of anything.

The findings were the result of a survey of the food-buying habits of over 1,000 people, the majority of whom said that they looked for the "natural" label when shopping. While some food labels — organic, for instance — have a USDA certification system in place and, crucially, an inspection system in place to ensure that those certification criteria are being met, "natural" has no such set designation. In fact, except for a statement that "natural" poultry and egg products should be minimally processed, the USDA stresses that the definition for natural simply doesn't exist: "There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs."

In the absence of an official definition, though, the consumer reports survey found that, not only were people looking for the label, they had also made up a wide range of things that they thought the label meant, ranging from no antibiotics, growth hormones, or genetic modification to the somewhat confusing designation of "no artificial ingredients".

There's actually some potential good news buried in all of this: People are looking for ways to know more about their food production. The "natural" label, unfortunately, is not something that helps with that.

How does food labeling influence your shopping? Tell us in the comments about how you shop for food and what kinds of labeling practices you think would be most helpful.

Image: liz west.