Natural foods

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The term “natural” is applied to many foods, but does not have a consistent meaning.

Natural foods” and “all natural foods” are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions, most of which are vague. The term is often assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and all of whose ingredients are natural products (in the chemist's sense of that term), but the lack of standards in most jurisdictions means that the term assures nothing. In some countries, the term “natural” is defined and enforced. In others, such as the United States, it has no meaning.

Diverse definitions[edit]

“Natural foods” are often assumed to be foods that are minimally processed or do not contain any food additives, or do not contain particular additives such as hormones, antibiotics, sweeteners, food colors, or flavorings that were not originally in the food.[1] In fact, many people (63%) when surveyed showed a preference for products labeled "natural" compared to the unmarked counterparts, based on the common belief (86% of polled consumers) that the term "natural" indicated that the food does not contain any artificial ingredients.[2] The terms are variously used and misused on labels and in advertisements.[3]

The international Food and Agriculture Organization’s Codex Alimentarius does not recognize the term “natural” but does have a standard for organic foods.[4]

Fundamentally, almost all foodstuffs are derived from the natural products of plants and animals[5]

Definition by process and by product[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

UK blue Smarties, old(Top) and new(Bottom). Blue Smarties were re-introduced by Nestlé in the UK in February 2008, using a “natural” blue dye derived from the cyanobacterium spirulina rather than synthetic blue dye.[6]

In the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency has published criteria for the use of several terms in food labeling. The guidance, in general, restricts the use of natural to foods that have “ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man.” Natural flavorings are explicitly defined by separate laws.[7]

There are different standards for various types of food, such as dairy products. It also gives standards for some food processing techniques, such as fermentation or pasteurization. The standard explicitly rules out "foods derived from novel processes, GM or cloning."[8]

Definition by process only[edit]


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency restricts the use of "natural" to foods that have not been significantly altered by processing and gives examples of processes that do or do not significantly alter food. This includes two specific additional requirements:[9]

  • A natural food or ingredient of a food is not expected to contain, or to ever have contained, an added vitamin, mineral nutrient, artificial flavouring agent or food additive.
  • A natural food or ingredient of a food does not have any constituent or fraction thereof removed or significantly changed, except the removal of water.


In Israel, natural ingredients are defined as part of the Labelling of Prepacked Food Standard (Israeli Standard SI 1145, which is legally binding).

The standard offers a list of 33 processes which are allowed in natural ingredients, all of which are physical treatments and not chemical modifications. These include blending, cleaning, extrusion, freezing, drying, etc.

A specific ingredient can be called "natural" if it didn't go through any processing except for the listed ones. The whole food can be called "natural" if the food is not a blend of foods (even if they are all natural), has no added ingredients, and underwent only the specified processes.[10]

No definition[edit]

United States[edit]

In the United States, there are laws/regulations and agencies in place to protect the consumer when purchasing food products, specifically dedicated to the packaging and labeling. Some laws and organizations include the Nutrition and Labeling Education Act, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The FSIS agency is a subsection of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is tasked with the responsibility of "ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged."[11] The USDA is partnered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop and issue regulations in regards to appropriate usage of "natural" labels; yet, the FDA does not have specific rules for “natural" labeling, it has advised on their official website -"the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances." [12] Furthermore, although given the authority the FDA has not developed any rules or regulations on the defining features of what qualifies a product as "natural," but the FDA does reference a definition of "natural" in their informal policy (Ref. 53) which defines "natural" as "nothing artificial or synthetic (including colors regardless of source) is included in, or has been added to, the product that would not normally be expected to be there." [13] The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits labeling that is false or misleading, but does not give any specifics. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has a standard for organic food.[14] As of August 2005, the USDA has a section governing "natural claims" in its Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book;[15][16] the USDA's regulatory jurisdiction applies only to meat, poultry, and egg products.

Because there are few regulations governing the labeling of "natural" foods, food manufacturers can include ingredients that may not be considered natural by some consumers.

The poultry industry has been criticized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for labeling chicken meat "all natural" after it has been injected with saline solution up to 25% of its weight, but there is no legal recourse to prevent this labeling.[17]

Although there are few legal U.S. definitions for natural foods, there are numerous unofficial or informal definitions, none of which is applied uniformly to foods labeled "natural".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ikerd, John. The New American Food Economy.
  2. ^ Weaver, A. (2014). "Natural" Foods: Inherently Confusing. Journal Of Corporation Law, 39(3), 657-674.
  3. ^ "Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising, Chapter 4". Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 
  4. ^ "List of standards". Food and Agriculture Organization. 
  5. ^ Food processing: a century of change, R. W. Welch and P. C. Mitchell (2000) British Medical Bulletin, 56 (No 1) 1-17,
  6. ^ "UK | Seaweed allows Smarties comeback". BBC News. 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  7. ^ "Criteria for use of the terms Fresh, Pure, Natural Etc. in food labeling" (PDF). Food Standards Agency. 
  8. ^ "Criteria for use of the terms Fresh, Pure, Natural Etc. in food labeling" (PDF). Food Standards Agency. p. 16. 
  9. ^ "Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising, Chapter 4". Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 
  10. ^ "Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards" (PDF). US Department of Agriculture. 
  11. ^ Weaver, A. (2014). "Natural" Foods: Inherently Confusing. Journal Of Corporation Law, 39(3), 657-674.
  12. ^ FDA BASICS, What is the meaning of 'natural' on the labeling of food,
  13. ^ Food Labeling: Nutrient Content Claims, General Principles, Petitions, Definition of Terms, 56 Fed. Reg. 60,421, 60,466 (Nov. 27, 1991) (codified at 21 C.F.R. pts. 5, 101, and 105), available at
  14. ^ "National Organic Program". AMS. 
  15. ^ [1] USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, August 2005
  16. ^ "USDA Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms". 
  17. ^ Salt-Water-Soaked Chicken Not at all Natural, Says CSPI CSPI, February 24, 2010