Organic vs. Natural: Understand the Difference, Educate Others

Written by Max Goldberg on January 2, 2011. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

These past few days have been heaven for college football junkies such as myself. Why?

We got to watch a ton of great bowl games and the best is yet to come — January 10th when Auburn and Oregon play for the National BCS Championship. Then, a few months later comes March Madness, the college basketball championship tournament.

Now that I got the sports plug in, let’s talk about Organic vs. Natural.

I am addressing this now because when I was watching the Rose Bowl game yesterday (TCU vs. Wisconsin), a major potato-chip manufacturer kept popping up with its “all-natural” ads. The vegetables in the ads looked pristine, the kitchen was sparkling white and the cutting board was beautiful. It was about as picturesque and healthy looking as you can imagine.

And, they kept saying their potato-chips were “all-natural”.

According to the USDA’s website, this is what “natural” means.

As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.

Did you read that last sentence? There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.

As a result, “natural” has been badly abused as a marketing technique, and tons of companies have used genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic chemicals, and growth hormones in the production of their “natural” foods.

Since the government has been unwilling to enforce any type of standard for the term “natural”, class action lawyers have gotten involved and filed lawsuits against corporations such as Pepsi (Naked Juice) and Kashi who have used ingredients that are anything but natural.

What to do?

Avoid buying products labeled as “natural” and purchase “organic” products.

Organic food has very strict standards — no GMOs, no toxic pesticides or chemicals, nothing artificial, nothing can be irradiated or grown in sewage sludge — and the certification process is rigorous. Organic food is MUCH healthier for a person and for the planet.

So, the next time some person or some advertisement says that a food product is “natural”, now you know what the word really means. Or, doesn’t mean.

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18 Comments

  1. I totally agree with you – I see the word “natural” being used more and more and a large range of what it means to different manufacturers. If they don’t say on the package what “natural” means I just disregard the word in making a purchase decision.

    Written by Karl on January 4, 2011 @ 12:27 pm
  2. Hi Karl,

    You are an extremely smart consumer and well-aware that “natural” gets abused very, very regularly.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on January 4, 2011 @ 11:16 pm
  3. Not enough people are aware of the difference. Thanks for pointing it out in a clear and direct manner!

    Written by Tashina on September 8, 2011 @ 3:07 pm
  4. Hi Tashina,

    I agree with you — not enough people know the difference. This means that we have to continue to work hard to educate others.

    Thanks so much for your feedback.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on September 8, 2011 @ 3:57 pm
  5. As a certified organic grower, the term Natural is a complete joke. While not using preservatives is fine, who would consider pesticide ridden fruit natural?

    It is completely possible that the organic industry will be crushed by the natural one because consumers are more open to natural; cheaper priced, and well, the word natural has a better visual to it than organic. What can be simpler and better for you than natural, right?

    Unfortunately, I see more and more organic growers that just can’t justify the high costs of being certified and they let their certification expire; such a shame because if more people understood what natural and organic means, natural wouldn’t exist.

    Written by Dean Kreutzer on September 8, 2011 @ 5:18 pm
  6. Hi Dean,

    First off, thank you for being a certified organic farmer. Farming is hard work and we are lucky to have farmers who produce organic food for us.

    Secondly, natural is a joke. That is why I believe all these class action lawsuits will help raise awareness about how Natural means absolutely nothing. I hope these lawsuits will change things.

    If for some reason, you don’t know what I am talking about (don’t know what these lawsuits are), read these posts:

    http://livingmaxwell.com/lawsuit-conagra-gmo

    http://livingmaxwell.com/kashi-class-action-lawsuit

    Third, I am very sorry to hear that more farmers are giving up organic certification because of the costs. Something is fundamentally wrong with society when farmers have to pay more when they grow crops without pesticides and GMOs.

    Again, thanks for all you do.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on September 8, 2011 @ 5:42 pm
  7. Hi Mr. Goldberg. Our FAQ for “What does natural mean?” has an icon of a green painting brush lol. I would LOVE to reclaim the word natural. I never thought it was possible but seeing these lawsuits, Wesson, then learning from you about the Kashi suit.. and the Cornucopia Institute’s work on a loophole http://www.cornucopia.org/2010/04/organic-industry-watchdog-asks-usda-to-crack-down-on-labeling-abuses/ I was just going to ask you to support our petition but then I got drawn in and it is really uplifting. I hope you’ll say hi on our Facebook because we have a lot of people who are crazy for organic, who take it upon themselves to make change, who research, write, support and are positive. Sound like anyone you know? ;) I’m ready for some peace, healthy living, and the rest of nature feeling safe around human beings again. I believe in that future. It was really nice reading your site. To healthy life!

    Written by Mary Nichols on September 12, 2011 @ 4:58 am
  8. Hi Mary,

    Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, these lawsuits are very good news and will hopefully bring awareness to everyone else that “natural” is being severely abused and is misleading consumers.

    I believe that people will eventually see the light that “organic” is the way. We are on the right side and must continue to press our case.

    Again, thanks for sharing.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on September 12, 2011 @ 10:13 am
  9. Hi Max!

    Glad I found your site! Thanks for the Twitter message!

    So I wanted to comment because I have some internal conflicts about this topic. On one hand, I agree that organic is the gold standard (it is of course!) But I have also seen it used as a marketing ploy to sell unhealthy foods, which frustrates me because I think it will further confuse people, people that are making a conscience effort toward health! I also don’t want to count out those who do not operate on a large enough scale to get certified organic. My CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm is just a small farm near my home, they are devoted to the organic method but are not certified. I think a healthy dose of skepticism has to be the norm when navigating our food environment, in general. I love both the words ‘natural’ and ‘organic,’ but i have become distrustful of many who use them! Think local and organic, lets support our farmers over large corporations; after all our health is what hangs in the balance here, right!?

    ps- when was the last time you saw a potato chip in nature? lol

    pss- Ahhh, and I can’t believe they can advertise GMO products as natural!

    psss (can I do that?)- Go Auburn!

    Written by Meaghan on September 23, 2011 @ 12:37 pm
  10. Hi Meaghan,

    I understand your position about organic. I support non-GMO and non-pesticide producing food, and the standard that we have for that right now is organic. Will I buy food from a small farmer who doesn’t use pesticides or GMOs but isn’t certified? Absolutely.

    Regarding potato chips and other processed organic foods: I may not eat all of them myself but I support those foods because the raw ingredients are certified organic, which helps create demand for those underlying organic crops.

    You’re an Auburn fan??? Very cool. However, I think LSU is going to win it all this year. Their defense looks so good.

    Thanks so much for your comment.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on September 25, 2011 @ 8:39 pm
  11. Agreed. Have you ever had a discussion on organic milk or produce and someone else said, “ew, but organics have all that yucky stuff in them”. I’ve heard something like this a couple of times. Where does this come from? We definitely need to educate.

    Written by Theresa on October 2, 2011 @ 10:14 pm
  12. Hi Theresa,

    I have never had that exact reaction but I have had many individuals doubt or question the value of organics. The word (truth) is getting out, however, and there is no turning back.

    Yes, we definitely need to educate people. I 100% agree.

    Thanks for your input.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 3, 2011 @ 10:25 am
  13. here are various fine points I have researched over the last 18 months (since my senior seminar was begun, in anthropology, with interest in security/rights of food and herbal medicine) regarding GMOs, herbicides and pesticides, “certified” organic labelling, the USFS and BLM, Codex Alimentarius standards and regulations, and more. These points are listed at the disclosed blogspot link. Please read them thoroughly and pass on the knowledge! The more people aware of these things, the better. We don’t live in the house we think we do. http://kairologic.blogspot.com/2012/07/organic-schmorganic.html

    Written by Brendan Bombaci on July 29, 2012 @ 7:30 pm
  14. Hi Max,

    Thank you for clarifying the distinction for us. Natural is certainly a catchy marketing word that most of us fall for without knowing what it really stands for.
    I might’ve come across your article a little late, but I sure am going to share it with my followers and friends on the social media. There’s so much education the world needs.
    Keep up the good work!

    Best
    Vik

    Written by Vik on May 11, 2013 @ 7:41 am
  15. I noticed the Barabras Bakery lawsuit also contained some of their Organic products… how did this happen?

    Written by Lynn on August 13, 2013 @ 4:26 pm
  16. Hi Lynn,

    I don’t understand the question.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on August 18, 2013 @ 1:21 pm
  17. I an indian orgnic farmer no security orgnic foods on senses used orgnic food I have 8 year experience in orgnic farming in india I have experience USDA farming

    Written by Baljinder singh on July 19, 2014 @ 1:45 pm
  18. […] general, people are still very confused about food labels.  After all, many consumers believe that natural is better than organic, which couldn’t be further from the […]

    Pingback by Is "Local" the Same Thing as "Organic"? on July 20, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

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