'Natural' Food Labels Can Be Misleading, Advocates Say

How 'Natural' Food Labels Are Misleading Consumers 2:02

The "natural" label can be found on everything from tomatoes to processed ham to root beer, but there is no agreement or standard for what "natural" means.

And that's got consumer rights advocates calling for change.

Jane Maynard, who blogs about preparing healthy meals, has a big gripe with the "natural" label found on so many products in the grocery aisle.

"That word pulls you in and makes you feel like for some reason that's a better food," the San Diego resident told NBC News as she prepared dinner with her kids.

According to Consumer Reports, 62 percent of shoppers look for the "natural" label believing it means no artificial ingredients, chemicals, pesticides and hasn't been genetically modified.

Related: GMO Foods Should be Labeled, But Not for Safety: Bioethicist

But, in fact, there is no universal definition or regulation for the word "natural."

Among the examples cited by Consumer Reports:

Del Monte Fruit Naturals also contains artificial preservatives derived from industrial ingredients.

Kraft Natural Cheese includes cellulose powder…created with pieces of wood, cotton of bamboo to keep cheese from sticking together.

And "100% Natural Wesson Vegetable Oil" which contains genetically modified ingredients.

"And that's why we think the natural label is so incredibly misleading because it leads people to think that that food may meet those attributes, when in fact it does not," said Urvashi Rangan a lead researcher with the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

Consumer Reports has petitioned the FDA and USDA to ban the "natural" label, so shoppers aren't misled. The FDA is now asking for public comment.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, which has petitioned the FDA for a definition of "natural," called that "a welcome and necessary step towards having a common national standard that consumers can rely on regardless of where they live or shop."

Back in San Diego, Maynard said she's still a skeptic.

"Everything says 'All Natural', right? So that doesn't really tell you anything.