The terms organic and natural are frequently used interchangeably as they both tend to imply that which is made from nature. To illustrate just how confusing it can be, according to the results of a recent survey by the Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tennessee based advertising agency, when asked what is the best description to read on a label, 31 percent of respondents chose “100 percent natural,” 25 percent chose “all-natural ingredients” and 7 percent chose “contains natural ingredients. Only 14% chose “100 percent organic” and about 12 percent chose “certified-organic ingredients.” The irony here is that natural basically means very little on a food label.
Organic is a food certification system. Whenever you see an organic label on a food product, it indicates that the farmer, producer or manufacturer has passed regular inspections of their facilities, ingredients, and their practices. They must pay a fee for their certification, keep very thorough and accurate records and must follow very strict guidelines.
Natural, on the other hand is not certified. It is merely a claim that is made on a label with no oversight at all. According to the USDA, food can only be labeled natural if it contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is minimally processed. Furthermore, the label must clearly spell this definition out, so that consumers are not misled by the “natural” label. Keep in mind that according to this definition, animal products raised with the use of artificial hormones can be labeled as natural. The same is true for products that have been genetically modified. In the United States, there is no legal definition of “natural” on food labels; and because of this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually discourages companies from using the word “natural” on food labels.
Because the label “natural” or all-natural” is essentially unregulated, food companies can get away with using all sorts of non-natural processes and chemical ingredients in a food product that they claim is natural. The guiding regulatory force for now is integrity. For example, Albert’s Heartland Meadow beef products are proudly promoted as All-Natural. We have employed the strictest guidelines possible for these meats; they are hormone and antibiotic free; fed only a vegetarian diet, and are humanely raised according to a certified process. The only reason these meats are not labeled as organic is because the feed is conventionally grown. If these same cattle were raised on organic feed, they could then become certified as organic. But this level of quality in a natural product is not typical.
So, natural has approximately one paragraph as its guideline/definition, while organic has a very strict set of standards, requirements, policies and procedures that must be followed to gain certification – all overseen by the USDA. What is most important is to understand that NATURAL IS NOT ORGANIC. Only organic is regulated and a true certified food system.