Skip to main content

Recently, the GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association), a trade organization that represents over 300 businesses, sent a letter to the FDA informing them that they plan to petition the agency to allow foods containing GMOs to be labeled “natural.”  You may be thinking, “What?” because that’s the sort of headshake response we had here at Brown Bag.  Unfortunately, the GMA is serious.

Back in December, we told you about some common GMOs that are hiding in plain sight.  In fact, you’re probably ingesting GMOs unwittingly everyday—but at this point, no one’s trying to tell you that they’re “natural;” but if the GMA has their way, that’s exactly what may be happen.  Currently, foods that are labeled “organic” are not allowed to contain GMOs, according the to USDA’s organic certification standards, so there are some labels that are still sacred.  The same cannot be said for “natural.”

In August, we reported that consumers (according to Amy Sousa, senior research analyst at The Harman Group and co-author of the research firm’s Organic and Natural 2012 Report) are looking more and more at ingredients lists because they want their food less processed, more natural.  They don’t want to see ingredients lists that are 20 lines long anymore.  They want their food broken down to its basic components, sans additives. This is what the label “natural” is supposed to be bringing people, but without proper regulations about the meaning of the term, companies can call their products natural and you won’t be any wiser unless you’re diligent about reading ingredients lists.  .

The FDA has no official definition of the term “natural,” but its website gives us this:

“From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, 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.”

By this statement, we suppose that GMOs might be considered “natural,” but to most consumers, the word “natural” means more then just the absence of additives.

Currently, legislatures in 26 states are considering whether foods developed from biotechnology should be 1.) labeled, and 2.) whether they should be labeled “natural” foods.  It’s no secret that the growth of natural and organic foods is on the rise, so it’s really no wonder that the GMA is looking to capitalize on labeling, but as a consumer, this is confusing business.  Consider this bit of news from “By 2018, grocery giant Whole Foods Market will require all foods that contain GMOs sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores to be labeled as such. If FDA allows foods with GMOs to be labeled as “natural,” consumers will likely be confused by two seemingly contradictory labels on the same package.” (Food Safety News)

We’re not sure what the answer is for consumers besides being educated about what’s in your food, staying aware of the latest developments on food labeling, and lobbying for proper labeling.  What do you think about the business of labeling, GMOs, etc.?  Leave us a message on our Facebook or Twitter pages–we want to know!  We’ll be posting more news as we see it develop, but for now check out this article on Food Safety News about the current push by the GMA.