Food industry asks to label genetically engineered ingredients as 'natural'

Jan 9, 2014

The food industry wants the government to give the okay for calling products using genetically engineered ingredients “natural” foods.

I went to my local grocery store looking for the term “natural” or “naturally” and I didn’t have to go very far.

In the cereal aisle I found products labeled “naturally flavored,” “100% natural,” and an “all natural pancake mix.” A couple aisles over, looking at the chips there were “all natural” pretzels, “naturally sweet” popcorn, and then there was a drink with a label that read “naturally flavored beverage with other natural flavors blended with vitamins.”

But what does “natural” mean?

Well, turns out maybe not as much as you think it does.
 
Scott Faber with the Environmental Working Group explains that the “FDA allows foods to be labeled 'natural' if they’ve been minimally processed and they are free of artificial or synthetic ingredients.”
 
He says “natural” does not mean food was grown without pesticide use. It does not mean meat is antibiotic-free. It does not mean that your milk came from cows that aren't being pumped up on hormones.

Now the Grocery Manufacturers Association is asking the Food and Drug Administration for approval to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients as “natural.”

The GMA represents a lot of big food and beverage companies.
 
Faber says if the FDA approves the request, that makes a term like “natural” of little value.
 
“Allowing companies to use GE ingredients when consumers are already very confused about what 'natural' means, would just sow even more consumer confusion,” he said.
 
The Grocery Manufacturers Association did not respond to a request for an interview.