All natural, all bollocks

  • PopPress
  • February 14, 2014
  • StopPress Team
All natural, all bollocks

As Theresa Gattung famously confirmed, confusion is a well-established marketing tactic. And there are plenty of examples of duplicitous techniques used by the marketing and advertising fraternity to help 'increase purchase intent'. Now the term 'natural'—and the shysters who employ it—is coming in for some attention in a mock campaign funded by US industry body Only Organic.  

As the website says: 

Is your “natural” food what Mother Nature intended? Probably not.

“All-natural” and “natural” claims are among the most commonly used claims on new food products, and annual sales of products with “natural” claims are more than $20 billion.

But many products that claim to be “natural” are filled with stuff you couldn’t find in nature – including chemical additives, high fructose corn syrup and genetically engineered ingredients.

One reason is that neither the federal Food and Drug Administration nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an official definition for foods that can carry “natural” claims.

Both agencies have “informal” policies that natural foods should be minimally processed and should not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients.

Another reason is lack of enforcement. Although the FDA has sent warnings to some companies who stretch the limits of “natural,” the agency charged with regulating 80 percent of the food supply said it has bigger fish to fry.

The result is that many products claim to be “natural” claim when there is nothing natural about them.

For example, some yogurts, chips and cooking oils labeled as “natural” or “all-natural” contain genetically engineered ingredients.  Many “natural” sodas and granola bars contain high fructose corn syrup.  “All natural” ice creams may be made from cows treated with growth hormones.

It’s no wonder that consumers are confused.

Recent studies show that many people believe that “natural” products are free of pesticides or genetically engineered ingredients.

And some people believe that “natural” food is better for the environment than organic food. In fact, one survey found that people are twice as likely to think that “natural” food is free of artificial ingredients.

Unlike so-called “natural” foods, organic food is actually held to tough standards, enforced by the USDA. Organic foods must be free of  toxic pesticides, genetically engineered ingredients, hormones and antibiotics to carry the organic seal.

In other words, only organic guarantees that food was produced as Mother Nature intended.

While there doesn't appear to be anything regarding use of the term 'natural' in the ASA's code for advertising, ​there are some relevant rules around environmental claims. 

PRINCIPLE 1
Advertisements making an environmental claim should be prepared with a due  sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.
Guidelines
1(a) Absolute environmental claims shall be assessed on the complete life-cycle of the product and its packaging, taking into account any effects on the environment of its manufacture, distribution, use, disposal, etc. Examples include: environmentally friendly / safe / kind.
1(b) Qualified claims such as “environmentally friendlier/safer/kinder” require an ability to prove a meaningful environmental advantage over competitors or a meaningful improvement on a previous formulation, components, packaging, method of manufacture or operation.
1(c) Environmental claims shall be relevant, specific and clearly explain the significance of the claim in language readily understood by consumers.
1(d) Environmental claims shall only be made where there is a genuine benefit, not where they are simply promoting the observance of existing law. 
1(e) Environmental claims shall not overstate the level of scientific acceptance.

PRINCIPLE 2
Advertisements making environmental claims should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive or is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer. (Obvious hyperbole, identifiable as such, is not considered to be misleading).

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