A closer look at the natural food label

A closer look at the “natural” food label

Traveling down the grocery aisle, shoppers encounter countless labels on food. With so many buzzwords on food products, it can sometimes be challenging to sort through them and understand what they really mean, especially when it comes to the term “natural.”

In fact, “natural” is featured on $40 billion worth of food sales in the United States, only second overall to health claims about fat content. When people think of the term natural, they might think they are purchasing food that is more nutritious or raised in a safer way than other foods. However, that’s not necessarily the case.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food labeled as natural as:

“Natural: As required by USDA, meat, poultry and egg products labeled as ‘natural’ must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

“FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

What does that mean for peanut butter, granola bars and all the rest of those “natural” food products not subject to the specific USDA and FDA rules noted above? Ultimately, the answer is unclear. The item could, in fact, contain bona fide natural ingredients, but the label could also be driven primarily by marketing strategies.

As soybean farmers with our own families at home, we think it’s important to provide South Dakotans with food that is safe and healthy. When it comes to how we raise our food, we want to be a resource for people who have questions. The next time you have a question about what a label means or what we do on our farms, please feel free to ask. We look forward to connecting.