Report: 73 percent of consumers misled by 'natural' labels

Report: 73 percent of consumers misled by 'natural' labels
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The world’s leading consumer organization claims that more consumers than ever before are being misled by food labeled as “natural."

The Consumer Reports’ survey released Tuesday shows 73 percent of all consumers seek out foods labeled “natural” when grocery shopping — but the term has not yet been defined by the federal government, nor is its use regulated.

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Consumer Reports studies in 2014 and 2015 showed the majority of consumers expect foods labeled as “natural” to contain no artificial ingredients or processing aids, no toxic pesticides and no GMOs.

Because those expectations aren’t typically met, the group is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a rule that clearly defines the term natural or bans its use altogether.

“If the agency does not ban, it should establish a highly meaningful standard that is in line with consumer expectations for ‘natural’ foods — that they be produced according to the government’s standards for organic food and that they do not contain artificial ingredients,” said Urvashi Rangan, the director of the organization’s Food Safety & Sustainability Center. “And any claim should be independently verified to ensure it is true.”

After Consumer Reports petitioned the FDA in 2014 to ban the word “natural” on food labels, the agency responded by asking the public to weigh in on what the term should mean in food labeling. That public comment period closes today.

And it’s not just “natural” labels the group wants the FDA to take action on. It said its survey found discrepancies between consumer expectations and reality when it comes to food safety, genetically engineered foods and more.