Discovering the Truth Behind That ‘Natural’ Label

By Jolene Marty

With so many products out there claiming to be ‘natural’ and ‘safe’, how do we know which are really so? Everything nowadays seems to carry a label promising good and wholesome ingredients for our families however, it is sad to say that many of these are simply advertising ploys to get you to buy their product. Goldfish and sugar cereals have now become ‘natural’ and all baby shampoos are now ‘non-toxic’. Since when? Since the green and healthy living movement became very profitable and the Food and Drug Administration put lax requirements on what can be considered ‘safe’, that’s when. Let’s explore what the requirements are for being natural, non-toxic, etc.
Natural

As of April 2012, the FDA have not developed a description for use of the term natural or its derivatives. On their website they say that they do prefer that a food that contains added color, artificial flavors, and synthetic substances not be labeled as natural. (FDA.gov, 2012) This is obviously not enforced with a closeness as many children’s favorite snacks such as Goldfish Snack Crackers has the label Natural on the front and contains unnatural ingredients such as GMO’s (found in its canola, sunflower, and soybean oils) and MSG (found in its autolyzed yeast). Both of which are toxic for the body. The term ‘natural’ should be second guessed by looking at the label on the side or back of the package. Remember, the FDA does NOT have a regulation for this therefore, anything can quite literally technically have the term natural.
goldfish

Non-Toxic

This is another common things we see on the backs of products that contain ingredients linked to cancer, endocrine disruptors, and many other horrible effects on the body. Non-Toxic means something will not cause harm to health or the environment….according to the FDA. When seeing the words ‘non-toxic’ it almost always means that it has ingredients that can cause harm to you but are deemed ‘safe’ by the FDA. Here is an example from GreenerChoices.org Consumer Reports:  “CPSC describes tests that can be used to determine acute toxicity in terms of doses lethal to animals. By their definition, if a pint of a substance would be lethal to an average adult, it is considered acutely toxic. If it takes more than this to produce a lethal effect (say a quart), then CPSC would not regard the chemical as toxic. However, a substance that could kill an average adult who drank a quart is certainly not harmless. Such a product could be labeled “non-toxic” and not be in violation of the law.”

This is highly misleading, and letting companies produce toxic products to be sold to the public at ‘less than toxic levels’ so they may TRICK the general public into thinking they are getting a safe, quality item. The truly sick part is that they are profiting majorly from this. Companies will up-charge you for buying their ‘non-toxic’ product over a conventional product even though you are NOT buying a safer item! The Honest Company labels their products as Non-Toxic….here are a few ingredients that they include in some of their products: Cocamidopropyl Betaine (EWG,4), Phenoxyethanol (EWG, 4), and carrageenan (EWG, 3)

honest

Toxin-Free
When something is FREE from any toxins, they can be considered toxin-free. It is not the same thing as being non-toxic. (You will find the rare company that says they are non-toxic and are in fact toxin free). It can be hard to differentiate the difference especially when a company so heavily advertises as being safe but it is something that is solely found by consumer awareness. Many people who have phones or computers can look up the Environmental Working Group’s website (listed at the bottom of this article) and most often the brand is in their database with ingredients broken down as to whether or not they are harmful or not for you. If an item cannot be found, you can search by individual ingredient. A very valuable resources when trying to rid your life of toxic substances.

The Different Tiers of being Organic

There are several levels of being organic and it’s best to know which is what so that you may choose the best option for your family.

100% Organic
According to the USDA’s national organic standards, products labeled as “100 percent organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients. Products containing 100% organic ingredients may display the USDA Organic seal and the certifier’s logo, and must identify the certifying agent.

Organic

To be labeled as “organic,” 95% of the ingredients must be organically grown and the remaining 5% may be non-organic agricultural ingredients or synthetic substances that have been approved for use in organics by the USDA. These products are also allowed to display the USDA organic seal and certifier’s logo, and must identify the certifying agent.
Made with Organic Ingredients

Food products labeled as “made with organic ingredients” must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients. The remaining 30% may be agricultural products that are not produced according to the organic standards, and the ingredients list must clearly specify which products are organic and which are conventional. Non-organically produced agricultural ingredients may be processed with synthetics, but any non-agricultural ingredients appearing in the ingredients list of a “made with organic ingredients” product must be approved for use in organics by the USDA. These products must identify the certifying agent and may display the certifier’s logo on the back panel, but may not display the USDA organic seal.

Wait! There’s A Loophole!

All products using the USDA organic seal (food, personal care products, clothing, etc.) are held to the same standards (a manufacturer using the USDA organic seal on a product that does not qualify would be in violation of federal law, and could be subject to civil penalties). Unfortunately, the USDA does not have authority over the use of the term “organic” in a brand name, and some companies are taking advantage of this loophole. (greenerchoices.org, 2013). This is why when people think they are eating wholesome food or buying safe products they aren’t. Companies that do this should be ashamed.

Other Things to Look For

There are many other ways that companies try to deceive you by way of advertisement, into thinking their product is completely safe for you and your family. Below are listed a few common things to look for when looking for items that are truly safe, so to not get caught up in judging a product by first glance.

The ‘NO’s’ List

Companies like to lure you in by showing you what harmful things they do NOT contain. NO sulfates, NO artificial dye, NO paraben, NO MSG, and NO formaldehyde – which is great! They even put this on the front of the package in large, bold letters to catch your eye and not make you think twice about reading the back label. What you will often find on the back label are things like those nasty little preservatives they like to sneak in there under your nose, or fragrances, or in food autolyzed yeast which actually IS MSG (which is a common ingredient to find in ‘MSG free’ foods-scary right?)

Nature Pictures & Color
When people think of natural, they tend to think of nature…leaves, trees, green, brown, etc. Advertisers know this and try to make things they are trying to sell off as natural, have nature-like packaging. I see this in baby wipes very often. It will have a bunch of leaves on it, the package will be green and have a little bee on the front (and hey it even says Fragrance-free and hypoallergenic) and you think you have found something natural. Sometimes it even will say Natural on the front. Unfortunately upon taking a closer look, you will find things that are horrible for your body and health. These are the items that are general marked up in price because you are buying something ‘natural’ even though it is really far from the truth.
7th gen

Catch Phrases
The last common thing I see on packaging on either food or products, are catch-phrases that companies make people think they are buying something natural and safe when in fact it is advertisement at its best. A few catch phrases to look out for: Free & Clear (does not mean its free and clear from all toxins), Green (doesn’t mean it’s good for you or the environment), Hypoallergenic (a lot of people are still allergic to these items because of other bad for you ingredients present in them), and sadly the term eco-friendly often gets misused and I find it most often on a bad for you product that happens to be in a made from recycled products package.

I know this was a long article but there are some very common things people should be aware of in order to be informed buyers. There are many, many companies out there that do not care for the well-being of its consumers, only the profit they seek to make by tricking people into thinking they are doing better for their families. Fortunately for us, there are a lot of really great companies that are not greenwashers, they are bonafide, hardworking, honest companies that give forth a toxic free (often organic and handmade) product. Remember, you vote with your dollar and when you know better, you do better.

A few websites with great information:
greenerchoices.org (offer report cards, breaks down FDA laws)
fda.gov (if you are interested in what the law actually says about naming products)
http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop (talks about being organic and the breakdown of such)
And as always if you ever are in need of a great resource that lists the greenwashers AND the safe companies go here: https://ecofriendlyusa.wordpress.com/product-reviews/personal-carecleaning-master-list/

Written by Jolene Marty, Published July 2013.

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