Back in May, I wrote the following:
there is a large contingent of lawyers with eyes set on the food industry Some were involved in the Tobacco lawsuits and are looking for a new target. Others are food lawyers and public health advocates using the legal system to invoke the change they want. In other cases, food company A is suing food company B in an attempt to limit competition. Whatever the reasons, one lawyer told me something to the effect that: if you've got the word "natural" on your food product, there is good chance you're going to get sued.
It seems the Wall Street Journal is now on the story. They ran a piece yesterday on natural food labels. They write:
Meanwhile, lawsuits are piling up, alleging false advertising. Attorneys say at least 100 lawsuits have been filed in the past two years challenging the natural claims of UnileverULVR.LN +0.32% PLC's Ben & Jerry's, Kellogg Co. K +0.41% 's Kashi, Beam Inc. BEAM +2.39% 's Skinnygirl alcohol drinks and dozens of other brands. Some lawsuits have been thrown out, but others have ended with multi-million-dollar settlements. Still others are pending. For the most part, the suits are filed by plaintiffs' lawyers on behalf of consumers who purchased the products, seeking class-action status.
The problem is, as the WSJ notes, that:
The Food and Drug Administration has no definition, says a spokeswoman, but rather a long-standing policy that it considers "natural'' to mean that "nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.'' The agency's website says it is "difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth."
No only does the FDA not have a definition, another deeper problem is that consumers don't know what they think natural means. As I pointed out in a survey in June, 66% of consumers think foods with added salt are natural, but only 32% think foods with added sodium chloride are natural.