Money & Business

Natural Fit: New Group Wants Formal Definition for “Natural” Products

By / Oct 6, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

With its website set to launch this week, the Organic and Natural Health Association has a number of issues it hopes to tackle right away. First up: Coming to a consensus on what a “natural product” is.

Quick question: When it comes to food and personal care products, what does “all natural” mean to you?

The answer might seem relatively easy—no added preservatives or chemicals—but the debate over how it should be formally defined and regulated is something that has caused a lot of tension and confusion between Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and various industry groups. As it stands, a company can essentially slap the “all natural” label on its package without meeting specific qualifications.

“I think the term has meaning to people. I think to some people it means it’s healthier,” Daniel Fabricant, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association, recently told Deseret News. “I think people don’t want to think about a 50-gallon drum of light, sweet crude (oil) when they’re putting on their makeup because that’s what the other (unnatural) stuff is from.”

But without a true definition, the difference between natural and unnatural can be hard to tell for a consumer. And that’s where the Organic and Natural Health Association (ONHA) plans to step in. The new association, whose website launches on October 7, hopes to fill in the blanks for the industry by collaborating with groups that have started to do this work.

“The process is one that will be very inclusive,” Karen Howard, CEO of ONHA, said in an interview with Nutritional Outlook magazine. “As we create our standards—and we can use natural as an example—we’ll be looking to the organizations with this expertise. … Our intent [is to be] an added-value instead of added-work.”

Howard said ONHA will look to bring both consumer associations and corporate members to the table to collaborate on the new standards and research that the association will develop. “That’s what makes us unique in many ways,” she said. “The consumer organizations will be considered our conduit into the consumer world.”

In developing a definition for “natural” products, Howard said ONHA will consider corporate responsibility programs “all the way back down to what are the grazing practices for dairy and beef and poultry that we would want to include in our definition of natural or naturally fed that are sustainable agricultural practices […] and even for things like algae, what are your water practices? It could even include packaging.”

In the end, the goal is to bring clarity for consumers and members of the industry, Howard said. “The data is showing that consumers are being so misled by the claim of natural that in some cases they seem to believe that natural is the same as organic and that it’s just less expensive because companies haven’t gone through the certification process. To that end, I think people … seeking a healthy alternative … are hoping to buy those kinds of goods, and that’s really where we want to come in and be supportive of that.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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