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73 percent of shoppers buy 'natural' products, despite lack of regulation

Supermarket labeling, whether it's honest or not, can make or break the profit margins of food producers. Today, Consumer Reports released the findings from a study that says 73 percent of polled shoppers buy food with a "natural" label on it, even though there's no regulation around the word.

"[Consumers] think for processed foods, 'natural' means that it has no pesticides, no artificial ingredients, no artificial processing. Nearly half the people [questioned] think it's verified," Urvashi Rangan of Consumer Reports says, according to Eater. "But it's not a verified label."

Meanwhile, 58 percent of shoppers buy organic products, which are verified and regulated. Most of those shoppers, 67 percent, believe organic pricing to be higher, and 25 percent believe products labeled "natural" cost approximately the same amount as products that are labeled "organic."

There have been a number of lawsuits against food companies over labeling (like Kashi, which settled for several million dollars). The battle over labeling is in part a First Amendment issue. Rangan explains, "A lot of companies argue it on First Amendment grounds, saying it's freedom of speech. But part of the FDA's job is to stop misleading labeling. We're all for freedom of speech, but not freedom to mislead people."

After a few citizen petitions, plus the lawsuits, the FDA started to welcome feedback from the public about the use of the word "natural." Comments, which will inform the FDA's next step, can be submitted through today.