Natural Food Labels

Articles
October 11, 2010

Natural Food Labels

Just as the industry is pushing to guide consumers toward better health with clear, honest food labeling practices, well-known brands are under fire for making claims that their products are all-natural.

Just as the industry is pushing to guide consumers toward better health with clear, honest food labeling practices, well-known brands are under fire for making claims that their products are all-natural.
 
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) claimed last month that 48 of the Ben & Jerry’s 53 ice cream flavors packaged as all natural – including Chubby Hubby, Dublin Mudslide and Cherry Garcia – contained artificial ingredients such as cocoa processed with alkali, corn syrup, anhydrous dextrose and maltodextrin. As a result, Ben & Jerry’s, the upscale ice cream unit of Unilever, has agreed to remove the all natural claim from its packaging.
 
If high-profile brands like Ben & Jerry’s are finding themselves in this position, imagine how confused consumers are. While the USDA allows meat and poultry to be labeled natural under certain guidelines, the rest of the food supply's definition of natural is open to debate.
 
The Lempert Report has long-argued for industry standard food labeling practices as well as fighting against the use of unsubstantiated, unregulated health claims and marketing terms such as all-natural.
 
Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim stressed that the company uses the most natural ingredients it can find, and feels its products are all natural in the way reasonable consumers would understand the term. Still, to avoid the debate, they’ve chosen to steer clear of the term. 
 
In a letter to CSPI, Solheim stated, “We don’t want there to be any questions about our all natural claims. Also we don’t believe all natural claims are the best way to convey Ben & Jerry’s core values, which focus on the use of milk from family farms which do not use rBGH, the use of certified Fair Trade ingredients, the use of certified, cage-free eggs, and the use of suppliers that work for social justice. Therefore, we have decided to remove these claims and focus more strongly on our core values.”
 
Ben & Jerry’s decision to change its packaging should be applauded. 
 
But there are still plenty of companies out there taking advantage of the fact that the FDA doesn't define the word natural. The natural claim is interpreted at the shelf as a product that’s good for consumers – which isn’t necessarily the case.