Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What does 'natural' mean?

The USDA has recently announced that it is working on a definition for the terms 'natural' and 'naturally raised'. Currently, these terms are used voluntarily. As you can imagine, this has led to a lot of confusion and misleading claims. To determine a definition, the USDA is looking to mesh the current definitions of the Food Safety and Inspections Service (FSIS) and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

The FSIS allows meat and poultry products to use a 'natural' label "provided that the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredients, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and that the product is not more than ‘minimally processed.’” Minimally processed is then further defined to include “traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or to make it safe for human consumption e.g., smoking, roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting, or those physical processed which do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or which only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g., grinding meat, separating eggs… and pressing fruits to produce juices...all products claiming to be natural or a natural food should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term natural…”

The AMS allows products to be labeled as 'naturally raised' if the meat comes from "animals that have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics [small exception], and have never been fed animal by-products…and aquatic by-products.”

These two statements aren't that helpful because of the room for loop holes. The USDA hasn't yet announced a final definition, but hopefully it is more clear than the statements given by the FSIS and the AMS.

USDA to define natural article

As an ag entrepreneur, do you advertise any of your products as 'natural'? Do you think a clear definition from the USDA will help or hurt you? As a consumer, do you find more value (and trust) in a USDA definition?

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