Wednesday, April 25, 2007
When the label says "natural," I assume it's better and safer than other products in the same category. But is it?
According to the National Consumers League, the unfortunate answer is: It depends. When it comes to the word "natural," neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration actually defines or restricts the term in labeling. Even "organic" doesn't ensure a product is free of additives. Producers can label products "organic" if only 70 percent to 90 percent of the ingredients meet the USDA's definition.
In a report published in 2002, the NCL said that labeling a product "natural" or saying that it contains natural ingredients doesn't prevent manufacturers from also including chemicals, preservatives and other possibly harmful additives that are anything but natural. That year, in a random sample of herbal stores, the California Department of Human Services found that 32 percent of "natural" remedies contained either heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic and mercury) or undeclared pharmaceuticals.
I'm not alone in my perceptions, though. "Three-quarters of Americans believe that products labeled 'natural' should contain at least 90 percent or more natural ingredients, and 86 percent believe products labeled 'natural' are safe," the survey revealed.
Some other problematic labeling: "Hypoallergenic" isn't a guarantee you won't react to it; it just means that the product doesn't contain the most well-known culprits. "Unscented" products can include masking agents used to cover up chemical odors.
The bottom line? Read the label. If it's a chemical alphabet soup, pass.