all natural

As the debate over what the term ‘natural’ means when it comes to foods, the Natural Products Association has announced plans to develop a seal for natural foods to begin appearing in 2012.

Unlike the USDA regulated term ‘organic’, the non-profit organization will oversee the evolving definition of ‘natural’—a contentious term for many consumers and retailers confused by the vague and widespread use of the word.

The seal will join the Natural Products Association’s roster of seals including natural delineations for home and personal care products. To start, there will be six food categories, with two launching in 2012: snacks/cereals and meat/poultry.

A recent report published by the watchdog group the Cornucopia Institute identified major cereal brands labeled as natural of deceptively selling consumers genetically modified foods under a natural label. Among those named were Kashi, Barbara’s Bakery, Peace Cereals and Whole Foods private label. ConAgra is in the midst of several class action law suits over the use of the word natural on its Wesson cooking oil, which is derived from genetically modified seeds. By definition, GMOs alter the natural state of an organism to something that would not occur otherwise.

Citing that the seal may evolve over time, the NPA label will have strict standards that either label something as natural or not, unlike the USDA Organic certification that allows for tiers on products containing as little as just 70 percent organic ingredients. However, under its current design, the seal may allow for the inclusion of genetically modified foods to be considered natural.

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Image: [F]oxymoron