Episode 5: Who Decides What’s Natural?

Have you ever seen the word “natural” on a pack of hot dogs and wondered what it means? You’re not the only one. The words “natural” or “all-natural” on food packaging have been vexing customers and regulators for years.

In this episode we are looking at the words, claims, seals and certifications that show up on your food packaging. What do they tell us and is what they tell us real? Who are those labels for: for companies to sell their product or for consumers to make educated decisions? In particular, we were curious about the labels, like “natural” that seem to say a lot but don’t actually carry any weight. We talk to a few experts, check out some food labels ourselves and even ask a few people out shopping what the heck they think their food labels are telling them about how their food got to their plates.

Available wherever you listen to podcasts.

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"Once you understand that the purpose of a food company is to sell food products, then you look at the whole labeling issue in a very different way."

Dr. Marion Nestle

Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health

Episode Guests

Marion Nestle

Dr. Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, in the department she chaired from 1988-2003.  She is the author, co-author, or co-editor of fourteen books, several of them prize-winning, most notably “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” and “What to Eat.”

Patty Lovera

Patty works on food and agriculture policy, with a special focus on animal agriculture. She helped start Food & Water Watch (FWW), serving as their Food and Water Program Director for 14 years.

Dr. Urvashi Rangan

Dr. Rangan is the Chief Science Advisor for FoodPrint, and a toxicologist and public health scientist with 20 years of experience studying the food system. She is a co-chair of the Funders for Regenerative Agriculture and for many years she worked at Consumer Reports, heading up their Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

Errol Schweizer

Errol has worked in retail, CPG and food policy for over 25 years, including 7 years as V.P. of Grocery for Whole Foods. He serves as a Board Member, Advisor and mentor to over 20 high growth enterprises in natural products retail, CPG, cannabis, E-commerce, and nonprofit sectors and hosts a podcast on food and labor called The Checkout, https://www.thecheckoutradio.com.

Kristen Strader

Kristen is the Communications Manager for campaigns for HEAL Food Alliance, which builds collective power to create food and farm systems that are healthy for families, accessible and affordable for all communities, and fair to the hard-working people who grow, distribute, prepare, and serve our food — while protecting the air, water, and land we all depend on.

Food Label Guide

Not all labels are created equal.

Some are clear indications that the food has been certified to meet certain requirements, such as “USDA Organic Certification” or “Animal Welfare Approved.” Some, like “Pasture Raised,” suggest certain standards were met or practices were used, but do not guarantee it. Sometimes the words themselves — as in the case of the word “natural”— have ceased to have any true meaning. That’s why a comprehensive food label guide can be so useful.

View the Entire Food Label Guide >>

Common Labels

Non-GMO Project Verified

Certified Naturally Grown

Top photo by Korta/Adobe Stock.