Natural vs. Organic

natural-cheetosI recently watched this video that mocks what the advertising industry has been classifying as “natural.” The man narrating the Only Organic promo plays the boss at the infamous False Advertising Industry. He chuckles that people will buy a bag of chips if it says “natural” on it just because it seems fresh and inviting.

While most of his satire is over-the-top in order to sell the idea that organic is better, the point of this video is so true: Marketing doesn’t have to try that hard to dishonestly convince consumers what they are eating is healthy.

Are people just gullible or is advertising the bad guy?

I think it’s kind of both.

While taking an Intro to Marketing class a couple of years ago, my eyes were opened very clearly  to the truth about advertising. Most of it is a lie to get people to buy things they think  they need. This concept made me so angry I began shopping at Aldi instead of Walmart, not buying gum at the checkout line, avoiding appetizers at restaurants, loathing Christmas, shopping at Goodwill instead of clearance sales….. and  refusing to buy organic foods! I decided that marketing would not control my consumer wants and needs (and more importantly my budget!) if I could help it.

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Getting back to “The Natural Effect,” I can see how consumers are confused between the terms natural and organic. My number one reason: The advertising industry does a horrible job defining it.

Instead of slapping the “Natural” label on bags of carrots and kale, advertising is sneakily stapling it to processed foods like this bag of Cheese Puffs pictured above. I guess it’s not completely their fault, though. The Food and Drug Administration only vaguely defines what the natural label should mean. According to eatright.org,

No formal definition for the use of “natural” on food labels has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, “natural” claims have become common on new foods and beverages. FDA follows a 1993 policy that states:

“[FDA] has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Use of the term “natural” is not permitted in a product’s ingredient list, with the exception of the phrase “natural flavorings.”

USDA allows the use of the term “natural” to be used in meat and poultry labeling on products that contain no artificial ingredients or added color. The product also must be only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term natural, for example, no added coloring; minimally processed.

Source: What Does “Natural” Mean When it Appears on a Food Label?

So while Mr. Boss of the FAI mentions that “your product may contain antibiotics and hormones…[but] by adding “natural” to your package, you increase purchase intent and then people think you’re just as healthy as organic,” he is actually kind of right. 

Money is about as big of an incentive as bribing a child with dessert to make him or her eat bechtibles.

He is wrong about labeling bags of chips, though. As you can see on the Cheese Puffs bag that the term Natural is, indeed, described by the three phrases, “No Preservatives. No Artificial Flavors. No Artificial Colors” just like the FDA requires it to be. Are the cheese puffs minimally processed, though? That’s a good question to ask ourselves.

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wholefoods

So, how is organic different from natural? The USDA says,

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. (emphasis added)

Source: What is Organic Production?

Natural // No artificial ingredients
or flavors.

Organic // No hormones, pesticides,
fertilizers or GMOs.

So is one healthier than the other? Eh. Maybe. Lots of people think organic is the healthiest of all because the plants get to grow without aids or bug-be-gones. But me? I’d rather eat affordable fruits and vegetables than none at all. And since I rarely eat meat, I’m not as exposed to those “animal infused poisons” as meat lovers.

Before I buy organic, I’d personally like to wait til the prices go down (when the organic fad fades) or grow it myself to glean the healthier benefits.

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So there you have it. The Natural Effect analyzed and the Natural/Organic labels defined.

To end with my favorite quote from the video:

“…but if you ask me (pause), by genetically combining two organisms (pause), that’s 200% natural” (2:50-2:58).

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