Food labeling 101: GMO, organic, and other common grocery labels decoded

A quick, easy guide to nine commonly seen (and misunderstood) food labels, from 'GMO' to 'grass-fed.'

8. Natural

PRNewsFoto/Cedarlane Natural Foods/File
'Natural' is a common term on food packaging, but the use of the word isn't regulated in any sense, at least not yet.

Definition: In the dictionary, “existing in or caused by nature.”

What it means for you: Absolutely nothing, yet. Food manufacturers can label anything from guacamole to Sun Chips “natural” without consequence, though some people are trying to change that. California’s Proposition 37, which failed to pass last year, would have prohibited genetically modified food from being labeled “natural.” The law’s downfall was its lack of specificity: almost all foods are modified by humans on some basic level, and opponents argued that enforcing such labeling restrictions state by state could get tricky.

That hasn’t stopped people from trying to hold food companies accountable. Shortly after Prop 37 was voted down, a Colorado woman sued Campbell’s, which manufactures “Goldfish” crackers, for marketing the fish-shaped orange snacks as “natural” when they contained genetically modified organisms, such as soy derivatives. 

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

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If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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