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So what is unnatural about natural?

After I wrote my article about sugar my biomedical engineering daughter who recently graduated from fancy “East Coast College” pointed out that I should not mock unpronounceable chemical names. She can name many chemicals that are actually friends and quite helpful to life and the environment. Okay, point taken. She did go on to say that the article that needs to be written is the one about the term “natural”. She and others are tired of seeing the word “natural” plastered on food products, cosmetics or other products used in daily living that imply safe and harm free which may, in fact, be harmful or at the very least unnatural.

Local Farmer Market
Robin Rood

Is there a federal definition of natural when it comes to food consumption? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there is no legal definition of natural or its derivatives (whatever they are) as long as the manufacture of the product does not contain artificial flavors, added colors or synthetic substances. The idea of natural implies that the item “comes from the earth”. So that explains the vagueness on what manufactures of food can say on a label….everyone okay with this definition?

Apparently not for in April 2013, a revised code, Title 21, Volume 2, on food labeling was made to distinguish more specifically what was allowed to be used and subsequently appear on a label. An example of the revised code in use would be that if a product says it is “strawberry shortcake” it must have strawberries in it. If it does not then it must say that it is “strawberry flavored shortcake” or “natural strawberry flavored shortcake”. That is much more helpful but for me personally, if I want strawberry shortcake, I will make it at home for myself with real strawberries. I am pretty sure I am not going to buy anything that is flavored with something. But wait, I think I already do. My grape soda made with cane sugar has artificial grape flavor and Red 40 and Blue 1 coloring in it. Shoot! But it is locally made doesn’t that count?

Another confusing issue for the consumer is the term organic. What does that mean? So, organic is federally regulated in a stricter way than “natural” is, and in order to call a food USDA Organic it must follow the specific guidelines listed in the electronic-Certified Code of Federal Regulation updated as of May 27, 2014, National Organic Program. Toxic pesticides, GMOs, Antibiotics, Growth Hormones, Sludge & Irradiation of food are not permitted. Also, no animal cruelty, greater inspections of processes, or lower levels of allowable pollution counts are allowed and regular audits of farm to table are required. None of these protections occur under the label of natural. I feel better about the term organic already.

What I want to show here is that when you go to a grocery store or make a food decision at a restaurant or anywhere that you pay attention to what you are buying because it means something to you personally, economically and health wise. It is not enough anymore to mindlessly buy food without taking a moment to consider how it was grown or raised and what might be in it. There is a connection between cancers and other health concerns and artificial ingredients or pesticides. There is a dirty dozen list of fruits and vegetables put together by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Dairy products, we now know, are better for you as organic, rather than not, especially if you have young children in the family. Reinvesting in your local community and buying organically grown foods are two small ways you can help yourself and the ones you love. Even better start an organic garden and grow your own favorite foods .

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