Interpreting Labels: Natural vs. Organic Part 2

Organic carrots from digiyesica on flickr
Two weeks ago I wrote about "natural" labeleling on food packages and provided some humorous examples.  Well I'm a little tardy with Part 2, but I'm back to finish up with three brief thoughts about organic labeling.  (Again, these are merely snippets from a recent school paper.)
1. "Organics" defined
For a quick refresher: "Organic" encompasses the growing, harvesting, and production practices of a food or animal.  The USDA's National Organic Program states that organic production excludes conventional pesticides and fertilizers, and animals cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones.  A full list of prohibited substances can be found here.  
Organics in Europe?  Yup, here's the scoop.  By July 1, 2010 all organic foods in the European Union will have to be labeled with this new organics logo.  If interested, check out the EU press release from February 2010.
New European Union organic label.
2. Natural vs. Organic.  Which is better?  
Well folks, I don't think I have a clear-cut answer for this one.  From a regulatory standpoint, "organic" labeling is more reliable since it must comply to USDA's National Organic Program standards.  "Natural" has no USDA regulations, so proceed with caution and common sense.  Like I said last time, neither "organic" nor "natural' is an automatic stamp for healthfulness.  The ultimate value of a food should be judged by its ingredients, nutrition, and taste.
If you're interested: Labeling from the National Organic Program 
3. A New Trend for "Clean" Food
Forget natural, and scrap organics.  Last month The Hartman Group, a consumer research agency, released a report stating that Americans may be moving beyond "natural" and "organics" and demanding broader expectations of minimal processing.  David Wright, a senior associate, commented
“A lot of consumers can end up disappointed when they look at the ingredient list…To consumers [natural] has been so overused from a marketing standpoint. [...] What we have seen consumers doing is making more considered choices. [...] Everything seems to be coalescing around this notion of ‘clean’."
The report states that consumers expect healthy food and a whole lot more.  "Natural" and "organic" may take a backseat as new labels such as "local," "whole," "fresh," and "nothing artificial" take the spotlight.   So keep your eyes out; the sustainability movement is definitely hitting mainstream.
Source: "Exploring Expectations Beyond Natural and Organic." by Caroline Scott-Thomas from Food Navigator, April 2010.
More Resources


Emily said...

I think labels are super confusing, but I'm with you..I think the organic labeling is more reliable than natural right now. I've also heard about the growing disenchantment with organic foods, especially ones that are becoming major corporations like Whole Foods. Local foods are growing in popularity because they usually have preserved nutrition. Many farms may be organic but cannot afford to purchase organic certification.

Great post, Rachel! When are you done for the year?

Anonymous said...

Great post! It definitely can get confusing! I am glad that you pointed out, just cause something is natural or organic does not make it healthy.
I have patients buying organic chips, crackers, etc. thinking they are healthy.

Janet Helm said...

Fantastic post, and thanks for the plug. You're doing a great job blogging!

Anonymous said...

I'm often amazed by the number of "organic" and natural foods marketed to moms who buy them thinking, "they must be better for my family." Truth be told, just because it's organic doesn't mean it's nutrient dense. If I had the choice between a juicy slice of watermelon or a bag of natural/organic crackers, I'd go for the fruit every time.

MelindaRD said...

Great information. The article from the ADA times went over all this information and I have since shared it with my students as organic and natural, like you said, does not mean healthy. Organic mac and cheese and candy bars can still lead to obesity. Natural foods mean nothing from a regulatory standpoint.

Meredith (Pursuing Balance) said...

Great post! So often people see "natural" or "organic" and automatically assume that means it's healthy, when the nutrition facts also must be considered :)

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

Great post! I think it's so important to truly look at foods and not simply reach for something because it has a certain word on the label...

Conor @ HoldtheBeef said...

It's so easy to get disheartened and jaded by the semantics of it all. It seems that every manufacturer is out to fool us. Interesting read, thanks for this.

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Disclaimer. I am not a Registered Dietitian yet. I provide nutrition information intended for the general public, not for the treatment of a specific medical condition. I try to use scientific research and reliable sources when forming my opinions and messages.
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