What Does the Natural, Organic, Local Really Mean Legally?

By Admin on June 09, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are you careful about what your buy and eat? Do you buy organic, local, natural foods?

You may be surprised to find that those words -- natural, local, organic -- don't necessarily mean what you think. Here is what you need to know about the legal definitions of these label words.


What is natural? Surprise! There is no legal definition of natural. Many producers label their foods as "all natural" when in fact they contain factory produced chemicals. For example, Naked Juice agreed to pay a $9 million settlement after it was sued over its "all natural" claims when its juice actually includes fibersol-2, frustooligosaccarides, inulin, and genetically modified soy.

The FDA claims that it has not created a definition of "natural" because all foods have probably been processed at one point and are no longer technically a "product of the earth." However, the FDA does suggest that natural may mean no added color, no artificial flavors, or no synthetic substances.


How local is local? Is a corn local if it was grown in the same city, county, state, hemisphere? Like the word natural there is no legal definition of local.

Whole Foods defines local as anything grown in the state, or, in big states, anything grown within the region such as California's "Bay Area" or "Central California Coast."


Previously the term "organic" was as wishy-washy as natural and local. However, the United States Department of Agriculture has created a legal definition for the label "USDA Organic."

To be USDA Organic, producers must not use any synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), growth hormones, antibiotics, or GMO feed for animals. Farmers must actually remove all the above listed products from their farms for three years before they can be certified as USDA Organic.

However, if the broccoli you just bought is only marked as "Organic" instead of "USDA Organic," there is no guarantee that synthetic pesticides of GMOs were not used.

If you're trying to eat health and natural, don't just rely on the label. Your all natural cereal may be anything but natural.

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