Survey: Consumer criteria for 'natural' varies

by Jeff Gelski
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Consumers perceive that natural foods are the domain of independent brands.
People associate natural labels with non-GMO, no artificial ingredients and no pesticides, according to Consumer Reports.

YONKERS, NY — No US federal definition exists for natural labeling on food products, but consumers have their own definitions, according to a survey from Consumer Reports. Their criteria for the labels may not match up to what some products contain.

Fifty-one percent of the survey respondents said they did not think natural labels were verified while 45 percent said they thought they were and 4 percent said they were unsure. Sixty-two percent said they bought food labeled as natural.

When consumers were asked what the natural label on packaged/processed foods means, 63 percent said no toxic pesticides were used, 62 percent said no artificial materials or chemicals were used during processing, 61 percent said no artificial ingredients or colors were used, and 60 percent said no bioengineered ingredients/GMOs were used.

When consumers were asked what the natural label means for meat and poultry items, 65 percent said no artificial ingredients or colors were added, 64 percent said no artificial growth hormones were used, 61 percent said the animals’ feed contained no artificial ingredients or colors, 59 percent said the animals’ feed contained no bioengineered ingredients/GMOs, and 57 percent said no antibiotics or other drugs were used.

The Opinion Research Survey, Princeton, NJ, conducted the survey for Consumer Reports by contacting 1,005 US adults by phone Dec. 4-7, 2015. The survey had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentages points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Since the natural term has no clear meaning and no federal agency regulates the term, Consumer Reports in 2014 petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to ban its use on labeling. The FDA is taking public comments on natural labeling until May 10. 

Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports
Urvashi, Rangan, Ph.D., director of the food safety and sustainability center for Consumer Reports

“Ideally, we’d like to see federal regulators ban the natural label, but if they don’t get rid of it, then they must give it real meaning,” said Urvashi, Rangan, Ph.D., director of the food safety and sustainability center for Consumer Reports.

The survey may be at found here.

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