Use caution when taking advantage of the halo around ‘natural’

by Dan Malovany
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We don’t often agree with views of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But it was refreshing to read what Stephen Gardner, C.S.P.I.’s director of litigation, told another media outlet: “I don’t care what a scientist or indeed a lawyer thinks ‘natural’ means. All that matters is what consumers think ‘natural’ means. And consumers are entitled to be incorrect.”

You’ve been warned before, but the temptation for market gurus is often too great. Be careful when using the term “natural” on your packages. Food companies face a spate of lawsuits, ostensibly launched by concerned consumers, targeted at denying use of the term “natural” on food labels.

Recently a federal judge in California ruled that the Food and Drug Administration is the proper authority for defining natural, not the courts. The case involved a consumer suing Gruma Corp. over all-natural claims for Mission tortilla chips made with domestic corn, a raw material with G.M.O. content. Whether F.D.A. has the inclination or resources for such a decision is unclear. But it’s worth noting that previous suits resulted in companies voluntarily withdrawing such label claims in apparent recognition that the customer is always right, even when incorrect.

Use caution when taking advantage of the halo around “natural,” or you may find yourself in court.
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