Which Foods are Considered to be "Natural"

I may be a little behind in the news but I just learned the Kashi brand uses genetically modified ingredints, otherwise known as GMO's. While watching one of their commercials this afternoon a very bubbly girl with a hippie vibe similar to my own was bragging about the whole grains found in the cereal. The term whole grain seems to be stamped on everything lately in an order to urge consumers to buy these products. Even highly sugared cereals have a whole grain banner across the top of the box. Do they really think whole grains are still healthy when they're coated with sugar? Or are Americans so naive and blind that they will buy anything with a whole grain stamp?

Even if a product is made with whole grains what is the likelihood it isn't genetically modified? In the figure below you will see:

  • 94% of planted acres of soybeans are GMO's
  • 65-72% of planted acres of corn are GMO's
So unless the package says a product isn't genetically modified or organic it has most likely been modified.


I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable person. If companies want to grow GMO's to make batteries, diapers, and biofuel I can stand behind that. However, to feed something to children who are developing the organs they will have for the rest of their life, I have a pretty large issue with. GMO's have only been around since the mid 1990's so no one is certain about the long term health effects that my result from their daily consumption. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, CFR,  21 CFR 170.3 i, safety in reference to food is defined as the following:

(i) Safe or safety means that there is a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use. It is impossible in the present state of scientific knowledge to establish with complete certainty the absolute harmlessness of the use of any substance. Safety may be determined by scientific procedures or by general recognition of safety. In determining safety, the following factors shall be considered: 
(1) The probable consumption of the substance and of any substance formed in or on food because of its use. 
(2) The cumulative effect of the substance in the diet, taking into account any chemically or pharmacologically related substance or substances in such diet. 
(3) Safety factors which, in the opinion of experts qualified by scientific training and experience to evaluate the safety of food and food ingredients, are generally recognized as appropriate.

So, we can say with reasonable certainty that substance "X" is safe. I'm sure that can be said about many food additives. If it is eaten randomly the majority of the people won't suffer from any adverse reactions. What about the people who aren't in the majority? Safe should mean 100% safe otherwise it should be called relatively safe or reasonably safe. People have a right to know what is in their food and how it is affecting their body. I'm old enough to remember America before there was an obesity epidemic. 

Did you know there are nearly 4,000 food additives approved by the FDA for use in the US? Even if each of those additives are reasonably safe what about substance "X's" interaction with the other 3,999? It begins to turn into a complex equation that cannot be solved. 

Another term which is often found on food packaging is "natural". What does natural mean? According to the FDA's website:

What is the meaning of 'natural' on the label of food?

From a food science perspective, 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. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

Reading the above statement I began to wonder what is considered to be a synthetic substance. The term sounds vague so I kept digging. From the FDA website I uncovered the definitions of synthetic and nonsynthetic. I stumbled upon these terms in a docket where The Sugar Association Citizen Petition wanted the FDA to distinguish between regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup. According to the code of federal regulations and FDA's interpretation of the codes high fructose corn syrup is considered to be "all-natural". Follow one of the links below to get the full story.

Synthetic.  A substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal or mineral sources, except that such term shall not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes

Nonsynthetic (natural) .  A substance that is derived from mineral, plant, or animal matter and does not undergo a synthetic process as defined in section 6502(21) of the Act (7 U.S.C.  6502(21)).  For 
purposes of this part, nonsynthetic is used as a synonym for natural as the term is used in the Act. 


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