“Natural” vs. “Organic”

I was really kind of horrified to read about a recent poll:

American consumers believe that a ‘natural’ label claim is a better indicator of an eco-friendly product than ‘organic’, according to a new survey from advertising firm the Shelton Group.

I know there is a lot of marketing out there, and a lot of companies who really aren’t concerned at all about responsible or conscientious production are attempting to take their regular products and make them look “greener” by simply adding words to their marketing, but it is very important that you, the consumer, know what you are buying! Bear in mind that every product we purchase is a “vote” and sends a message to the large companies who make the things we consume. We have a choice every time we buy something to send a message which encourages companies to produce certain products, and allows other products to fail. Here is a breakdown of natural vs. organic, as it applies to marketing.

Natural – anyone can call anything natural. You can slap this label on anything. Even things made of 100% chemically created components. You could put this label on arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element. You could put this on bleach. Anything. There is no FDA regulation of the term “natural”. Most of the time it is merely a marketing ploy to make the same conventional products look more “green”. From USA Today:

“People are surprised to know that partially hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup could be in a product that is ‘natural,’ ” Rangan [Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist and policy analyst at “Consumer Reports.”] says. “High-fructose corn syrup isn’t just squeezed out of corn — it’s chemically processed dextrose, which comes from corn.”

Organic – the only way to make sure a product is truly “organic” (by the terms defined as organic right now…sometimes still not very strict, but the best you can get), is for it to be USDA Certified Organic. This means the product will have a seal or state that it has been certified organic by the FDA. Merely the unqualified term “organic” with no seal and no mention of certification is suspect. There is no way to back that claim without regulation.

One note about organic certification, though: to my knowledge, water cannot be certified. This means that if a product is mostly water and the percentage of water is greater than what the USDA would allow for the “non-organic” portion of the product, it might not be “certified” organic. Due to the amount of water in it. I do not have an update on whether this has been changed since the last time I heard about it, and can only find reports from 2005 or so. If you know of other information, please feel free to let me know!

When you buy something, it’s OK not to choose organic…I do it too! Just don’t be fooled by companies marking things as “natural” so that you pay more for something that isn’t necessarily better. And don’t let the wording on the package convince you to skip the very important step of reading the ingredients! It’s easy to think “oh, it says natural (or organic)” and just not take the time. But do we really want to encourage that kind of dishonesty in industry? Hm. I don’t. I don’t want the products who have been labeled in a deceptive way to sell well! Companies read their profit reports, and those products won’t last long if we are smart enough to see through the marketing and choose only products that we want companies to keep producing.

So now you know…and in the words of G.I. Joe: knowing is half the battle!

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