The term all natural can easily be a rip-off slogan, slapped onto products posing to be all about consumer’s health. Consumers are easily hoodwinked into paying extra for a product that is advertised as “all natural.”
Also, just because a product has a “natural” ingredient, doesn’t necessarily mean that that ingredient is safe, clean or healthy. Vitamin supplements may be sourced from indigestible isolates. Some herbal supplements, like Ginkgo biloba products from Starwest and Frontier, contain alarming levels of heavy metals. View the heavy metals results for popular Ginkgo biloba supplements at the Forensic Food Lab.
Natural ingredients are not always safer
There are many examples of “natural” compounds derived from natural processes that ultimately breakdown into dangerous forms in the body.
For instance, Tom’s of Maine claims their deodorant to be natural, and that is mostly true, but the company uses a preservative in their deodorants that is a byproduct of the natural gas industry — propylene glycol. This preservative is absorbed and metabolized into lactic acid in the human body, creating acidosis in the cells. A safer, all-natural preservative would be grapefruit seed extract, which is absorbed into the human body as a beneficial antibacterial agent.
“All natural” claims coming under scrutiny
Three months ago, a federal judge in California acknowledged a $3.4 million lawsuit against Trader Joe’s. The company misled consumers by falsely advertising products as “all natural” or “100% natural.” Products containing ascorbic acid (a synthetic version of vitamin C), sodium acid pyrophosphate (a synthetic leavening agent), vegetable monoglycerides and diglycerides, cocoa processed with alkali or xantham gum have come into question. Trader Joe’s could be held liable for misleading consumers about these ingredients that they deem as “all natural.”
Judge addresses Whole Foods over synthetic leavening agent
Recently, a district judge backed similar allegations against Whole Foods, cracking down on the company’s blanket use of the term all natural. This new class action lawsuit, originally filed in November 2013 by Mary Garrison, accuses Whole Foods of misleading consumers by selling baked goods labeled “all natural,” while containing a synthetic leavening agent — sodium acid pyrophosphate.
In the past, the Food and Drug Administration has declined to define the term all natural, or 100% natural, instead leaving the judgment call up to companies and consumers.
Whole Foods sees sodium acid pyrophosphate as a natural ingredient, and the company responded to Garrison’s allegations, stating that there is no proof that consumers may be deceived by the labeling.
US District Judge Vince Chhabria disagreed, stating that consumers might assume that products labeled “all natural” wouldn’t contain sodium acid pyrophosphate.
Judge Chhabria sided with the plaintiffs, stating that the Garrisons “have adequately alleged a concrete and particularized injury caused by Whole Foods’ conduct that can be remedied by a damages award.”
In the same ruling, Judge Chhabria rejected the Garrisons’ claim for injunctive relief. (In other words, Whole Foods cannot be forced to change their product labels.)
Still, Judge Chhabria ruled that all members involved in the class action suit have “standing” to bring forth claims on any of the six mislabeled products at Whole Foods. This provision is the most controversial, setting a precedent for swooping settlements that can be cashed in on by large groups of consumers.
Questions to consider
What do you think?
Should Whole Foods be required to pay damages to all the consumers who think that they were intentionally misled?
Should Whole Foods be required to change their labels over one questionable ingredient?
Are consumers being misled or are they equally responsible for not researching ingredients for themselves?
Are consumers equally at fault for blindly trusting labels claiming to be “all natural”?
How much of the fault should be on Whole Foods?
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