The Checkout

Naturally Confusing

I don't think I've ever thought of soda as being "all natural" despite what advertisements might say. That assumption is based on the fact that I've never seen carbonated liquid squeezed out of a fruit or vegetable.

Apparently, though, Center for Science in the Public Interest was worried some people might believe soda could be all natural--and thus not so bad for you. In May, it said it would sue beverage company Cadbury-Schweppes for calling the newly reformulated 7-Up all natural, even though it contained man-made high-fructose corn syrup.

Last week, Cadbury-Schweppes cried uncle and said it would change the labeling on 7-Up to "highlight natural ingredients ... for which there is no debate." Instead, it will promote the drink for having "all-natural flavors," "no added colors, no artificial preservatives and no caffeine."

As a result, CSPI also backed down on its threat to take Cadbury to court.

In its defense, Cadbury said it developed 7-Up following Food and Drug Administration policy on natural products and ingredients. Therein lies the crux of the issue: how to define "natural."

The FDA has tried in the past to nail down a more detailed definition, but has never formally adopted one. It has described "natural" as "minimally processed." That has left companies--and consumer advocates--leeway to come up with their own definitions.

Cadbury doesn't seem to consider high-fructose corn syrup an "artificial ingredient." Neither does Kraft Foods, which CSPI is helping a Florida woman sue over its "all-natural" claims for Capri Sun. Corn syrup, after all, comes from corn starch, transformed using what even CSPI admits are naturally occurring fungi and bacteria.

(What's interesting about Capri Sun is the way its high-fructose corn syrup content is disclosed. According to CSPI, the drinks are typically sold in boxes of 10 foil pouches. Both the boxes and the pouches use the words "All Natural," right under words "Capri Sun." On its Web site, it says "All Natural Capri Sun contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives."

Only the boxes mention the presence of high-fructose corn syrup in the fine print of the ingredients list, where it comes in second after water and before juice concentrates.)

In contrast to Cadbury and Kraft, however, CSPI argues that the process by which high-fructose corn syrup is made doesn't occur in nature and is therefore, not natural.

CSPI says high-fructose corn syrup is artificial because it takes "a complex chemical industrial process performed in refineries using centrifuges, hydroclones, ion-exchange columns, backed-bed reactors and other high-tech equipment." CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson quipped that if you wanted to try this at home, you'd have to set up the equivalent of a mini-Manhattan Project.

What I'd like to know is how much do consumers want or need to know about how their food is made when they read a label such as "natural?" Are the raw ingredients being natural enough? Does how they are made also matter?

By Annys Shin |  January 16, 2007; 9:00 AM ET Legal Battles/Settlements
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Comments

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I think there definetely must be some oversight on how terms such as "natural" are used. Corn syrup listed as the second ingredient in a juice drink is bad news and such drinks should not be labeled as "natural". Anything that contains processed ingredients and preservatives should not be labeled as "natural" because it is not. Yes, consumers should be reading labels, and for that purpose, a company which is deliberatly hides ingredient list must be punished.

Posted by: Elle | January 16, 2007 9:47 AM

People need to stop paying attention to buzzwords. After all, Arsenic is 'all-natural', but I don't think it is good for the digestion...

A nice consumer shift (maybe some self-education) would be appreciated. I still remember when BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) came out. And non-dairy products everywhere were proudly proclaiming "BGH-free!"- even though they couldn't have had it in them to begin with...

Posted by: Castor | January 16, 2007 10:00 AM

What is "Natural Flavor", why does it seem everything has it listed as an ingredient, and where can I buy a "Natural Flavor" tree so I can grow my own?

Posted by: SoMD | January 16, 2007 10:04 AM

There should be accurate labeling, but anyone who trusts the buzzword labels should know better - that's just more advertisement. The only reliable (for now)information is the ingredients list. It is annoying that it takes so much time to read them all, but once you've identified the brands that are better, it goes more quickly. If you're really concerned about "natural" or "low fat" or almost any other health concern, the easiest advice is to just stay out of the center aisles of the grocery store. Most stores are organized so that the produce, meat, dairy -- fresh -- stuff is around the edges. If you're spending most of your time going around rather than through all the aisles, then you're skipping all the sugary, salty prepared foods that are the worst for you.

Posted by: consumerisalwayslast | January 16, 2007 10:15 AM

It is sad. Why do we need to add colorings and other bizarre things to something we probably are not going to look at anyway? If the soda is in a can, why bother putting more junk in it if you are just going to drink it from the can? Why can they not all just be clear? The flavor is what is really important...
LOL at Natural Flavor Tree!
I have yet to see anything with a warning that: This product contains dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical known to the State of California to be a harmful corrosive.

Posted by: Chris | January 16, 2007 10:18 AM

"In contrast to Cadbury and Kraft, however, CSPI argues that the process by which high-fructose corn syrup is made doesn't occur in nature and is therefore, not natural"

Is the CPSI arguing that anything that does take not place spontansly in nature is not natural? If they are, then very little of the food we eat is "natural".


Posted by: dc | January 16, 2007 10:33 AM

I agree that sales pitches such as "natural" have no meaning to me. I look at the ingredients of all drinks and do not buy any that contain "high fructose corn syrup." That said, can anyone tell me where to find out about the specific health effects of consuming high fructose corn syrup? Such as, how it compares to consumption of "sugar"? (I also avoid ones that contain "sugar".)

Posted by: Diane, Baltimore | January 16, 2007 10:40 AM

Izze and RW Knudsen drinks are all natural. Just carbonated water and 100 percent fruit juice. No added anything. I only buy and drink these products when I have a hankering for something fizzy.

As for all natural, I agree with the poster above that if you're concerned, stay out of the center aisles. There's nothing healthy there. Its all filler.

Ugh

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 16, 2007 11:10 AM

Natural is something that occurs "naturally".

Soda does not occur naturally.

Chris said: This product contains dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical known to the State of California to be a harmful corrosive.
This is so true, however to add to this, it's not just the State of California that says it. Many states, universities, and doctors say it too. It makes good cleaner for boat and engine parts.

Most food stores have a natural isle. If you want natural or "raw" stick with those isles.

I do want to know what goes into what I eat or drink, but I also use common sense when it comes to soda and things of that nature, even if it does say "natural" in the label.

If it doesn't occur in nature, it's not natural.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | January 16, 2007 11:49 AM

"Izze and RW Knudsen drinks are all natural"

****** NOT TRUE !!! *******

See the item on the ingredient list that says "natural flavorings"?? I contacted Knudsen asking them what that meant and that I was allergic to corn.

Their reply was that "natural flavorings" are derived from DISTILLED GRAIN ALCOHOL which includes corn and advised me to not drink their products if I have a corn allergy!!!!!

Posted by: Maggie | January 16, 2007 12:07 PM

Last time I checked, corn was natural, as was any alcohol distilled from the grain. My point was there are no additives. No corn syrup, which uses unnatural processes to make it. No preservatives. No man made stuff. I didn't say anything about allergens.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 16, 2007 12:37 PM

The other tack on "natural" ingredients is whether the ingredient came from a natural source, or was manufactured but identical to the same ingredient from a natural source. For example, if you extract the essence from seeds of the vanilla plant, most people would consider that "natural" vanilla flavoring. But what if you can create the exact same molecules in a laboratory that gives "natural" vanilla its flavoring - should the laboratory derived product be allowed to be called "natural flavoring" as well if it is identical in molecular structure to the chemical produced by the vanilla plant, but was created from a "non-natural" process?

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 16, 2007 12:54 PM

The other tack on "natural" ingredients is whether the ingredient came from a natural source, or was manufactured but identical to the same ingredient from a natural source. For example, if you extract the essence from seeds of the vanilla plant, most people would consider that "natural" vanilla flavoring. But what if you can create the exact same molecules in a laboratory that gives "natural" vanilla its flavoring - should the laboratory derived product be allowed to be called "natural flavoring" as well if it is identical in molecular structure to the chemical produced by the vanilla plant, but was created from a "non-natural" process?

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 16, 2007 12:56 PM

But...I took another look at the bottle in response to Maggie, and she's right. Its there. It says natural flavorings. Hmm...makes me wonder if food manufacurers are so scared that combining stuff so it can sit on the shelf will taste bad that they use these "natural" substances to mask the taste.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 16, 2007 12:58 PM

But...I took another look at the bottle in response to Maggie, and she's right. Its there. It says natural flavorings. Hmm...makes me wonder if food manufacurers are so scared that combining stuff so it can sit on the shelf will taste bad that they use these "natural" substances to mask the taste.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 16, 2007 12:59 PM

Like avoiding the center aisles of supermarkets, here's another rule of thumb: If a product's ingredients list consists of more than two lines of type, don't buy it.

Posted by: Phil | January 16, 2007 1:21 PM

Right. Stick with fruit, like apples.

Of course, you need to scrape the wax off the apples that they use to keep them shiny.

Posted by: SoMD | January 16, 2007 1:27 PM

Then again, the wax on apples may be authentic bees wax, in which case the apples are "All Natural" by everybodies definition.

Posted by: SoMD | January 16, 2007 1:28 PM

"Last time I checked, corn was natural, as was any alcohol distilled from the grain. My point was there are no additives. No corn syrup, which uses unnatural processes to make it."

um, why is corn alcohol "natural" but corn syrup is not? They both rely on man-made processes to cause specific chemical reactions which change the basic molecular structure of the starting material (corn) into something entirely different (alcohol or sugar). If one is considered "natural" they both should be. Or neither. One but not the other doesn't make any rational sense.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 16, 2007 2:29 PM

" ... a complex chemical industrial process performed in refineries using centrifuges, hydroclones, ion-exchange columns, backed-bed reactors and other high-tech equipment."

Well, when you phrase it like that! LOL.

I don't mind either way if HFCS can be classified as a "natural" food. Sugar is also "natural" and it's no better for you than HFCS!

Both sweeteners are fine and are necessary ingredients in delicious foods, but it's important for people to consume them in moderation, regardless of how "natural" it is.

Posted by: Toby | January 16, 2007 2:52 PM

Sugar certainly doesn't grow naturally in powdered form. The sugar that we eat in daily life has had to be processed, just like corn gets processed into HFCS.

Note, too, that bread is the product of "a complex chemical process," namely baking. Is bread natural?

Same question as to beer. Hmm, I think this calls for some field research.

Posted by: Tom T. | January 16, 2007 4:40 PM

just a point of clarification "backed-bed" is actually "packed-bed" reactors. Simple mistake when one is taking dictation.

Posted by: Jerry | January 16, 2007 10:24 PM

WHAT? Why was my comment deleted? I merely said soda does occur naturally, at least soda water. People have been using naturally carbonated springs as sources for mineral water for centuries!

Posted by: Chris | January 17, 2007 8:44 AM

Alcohol comes from fermentation, hardly a man made process. Refined sugar and corn syrup, however, are the result of man made interference and do not occur naturally. See the difference folks?

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 18, 2007 12:53 AM

I disagree, sweeteners and not "fine or necessary ingredients". Frankly, I mind A LOT what the label says. I don't consume sugar other than that which occurs 'naturally' in a piece of fruit (not 'derived from' or 'added to'). The only 'natural' juice I drink is orange juice. Every other juice that I have found has something added to it. In fact, 80% of the food in the grocery store are problematic for me, mostly because of this particular issue. Worchestershire sauce, ketchup ... it's easier to list the items that don't have sugar derived from corn in some way!

It's no wonder that people who think they are eating healthy, so-called 'natural' foods, can't understand why they can't lose weight or bring their cholesteral down. We should not need a PHD in science to know what we just bought. We demand clear labeling for those who are allergic to peanuts. What about the much larger group of people who are trying to cut out these sugars or gluten for medical reasons?

While I agree in the moderation comment above ... the presence of sugar or gluten, not defined as such, is a HUGE issue for those of us who are dealing with medical issues. This group is getting larger every day. Small amounts of sugar derived from corn can trigger an epileptic episode, increase symptoms of autism, Chrohn's disease, or Celiac's in people who suffer from these problems. Moderation doesn't matter for them. Knowing WHAT they are consuming does.

YOU BET the label matters to me, natural or not!

just MHO :O)

Posted by: Maggie | January 18, 2007 12:36 PM

oops, sorry! That should have read "I disagree, sweeteners ARE not..."

Thanks for the great discussion!

Posted by: Maggie | January 18, 2007 2:10 PM

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