There is a difference between the terms “natural” and “organic” used on food labels.
“Natural” can be used to describe any food that grows in nature, like a strawberry, or a product made from natural foods, like strawberry jam. However, even though a strawberry is natural, it may be grown in soil that contains synthetic chemicals and pesticides.
Milk is another natural food because it comes from an animal; yet, that cow may be fed foods that contain added substances, such as antibiotics, or injected with artificial growth hormones.
The word “natural” doesn’t really promise anything special, other than that the products contains natural ingredients. Even natural strawberry jam may contain some artificial ingredients if the product is not labelled “100% natural.”
Unlike “natural”, when the legal term “USDA certified organic” is used on a food label, it has a consistent and meaningful definition. This sign of approval means the farmer went through a strict certification process to ensure that the natural foods they grow, raise or process for you do not contain anything that nature itself couldn’t provide.
Accordingly to the USDA website, organic farms and processors:
- Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
- Support animal health and welfare
- Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
- Only use approved materials
- Do not use genetically modified ingredients
- Receive annual onsite inspections
- Separate organic food from non-organic food
Fellow Wild Oats blogger and farmer, Dave was a pioneer in the organics industry and former chairman of the USDA National Organic Standards Board. He acknowledges that “instead of relying on synthetic chemicals or engineered seed to solve problems, organic farmers are required to use biological controls, crop rotations, and other practices,” and “the organic seal represents some very strong ideals on how food should be produced, processed and packaged.”
The bottom line: “organic” trumps “natural” all the time.