What does ‘natural’ really mean on food packaging?
With thousands of food and health products now on the market, it’s become a challenge for consumers to identify what is “right” and “good for their health” from what might prove to be a big disaster!
‘Natural,’ as the name suggests, is any product made from natural ingredients directly obtained from plants, minerals, and/or animal derived ingredients rather than synthetic compounds or petrochemicals.
It means free of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals. Natural ingredients, organic or otherwise, should ensure that petrochemical and synthetic compounds aren’t accumulating in your body and the environment.
However, in Australia this isn’t always the case. Due to the lack of food labeling standards, it’s often difficult to determine if a product is truly natural. The same standards apply to the word fresh.
Foods Standards Australia and New Zealand states that the listing of product ingredients is required on the container or on the product itself, if not packed in a container. The mandatory information standard requires display of information to allow consumers to be informed.
Yet, there are no regulations in place for nutritional content health claims and the claim to treat or prevent serious health conditions.
The current Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (FSANZ) has been under review. Council members say these revisions will ensure claims are scientifically substantiated and not misleading.
It is proposed that foods carrying general and high level health claims will also need to meet certain eligibility criteria.
In 2008 the Ministerial Council asked FSANZ to review parts of the draft standard and also to take into account the outcomes of an independent food labeling review. A food labeling review report was released in January 2011.
Work is continuing on FSANZ’s review of the draft standard. However, the Ministerial Council has extended the completion date for the review and has yet to advise FSANZ of the new timeline.
Until this process is complete, product labeling can continue to include the word ‘natural’ for marketing purposes, even if that claim is misleading.
So, in the meantime, when you see the term ‘natural’ used to describe food, remain apprehensive about what you’re really purchasing.
Remember, many substances may be derived from natural products but that doesn’t necessarily make them healthy.
We’re not suggesting you stop purchasing products labeled ‘natural,’ just to be an informed consumer. When it comes to your health, it really pays to do some research so you know exactly what the individual contents of a product are, their source and their intended use.