“100% Natural” Really Means GMO’s, Hormones, Antibiotics & Formaldehyde: Cooking Oils, Chicken, Beef & More

>While the demand for certified “ORGANIC” products continues to grow at an impressive pace (up nearly 10% to $28.682 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association), so-called “Natural Products” dominate health-food store sales, taking away precious market share from genuine USDA certified organics.  Products bearing “natural” claims outsell “organic” products by a factor of 4:1 (Nielsen).


According to the Organic Consumers Association, approximately 2/3 rd’s of the foods sold in Whole Foods are indeed conventional products, confusingly labeled “natural,” “local,” “sustainable,” “responsibly farmed,” etc.,  but which are grown and/or processed with chemicals and genetically-modified organisms/plants.  The term “Organic” is regulated by the USDA under the National Organic Program, created by federal law, and under various state laws, such as the California Organic Products Act of 2003.


Natural on the other hand has no genuine definition, no true regulation, or certification under the USDA or any other organization.  The term “natural” with almost no exception is left to creative license of the businesses that choose to use it, often “repackaging” conventional products with health-conscious labels to appeal to consumers looking for cleaner and greener products. Consumers mislead into believing that “natural” is just as good as organic, but cheaper, however, may not be getting what they expect (and in the end paying a lot more for a conventional product).  What is perhaps even more distressing is that the consumer may, in fact, not even be getting anything that remotely even occurs in nature.




As a recent California federal lawsuit highlights, foods labeled “100% Natural” are indeed made from genetically modified plants and organisms.  The lawsuit filed against the corporate giant, Con-Agra, for violations of California’s Business & Professions Laws, among other causes, asserts that Wesson’s Canola, Vegetable, Corn & Soybean Oils Labeled “100% Natural” are actually made from GMOs.  Digging deeper into the Con-Agra website (and deeper than any reasonable consumer would or should drill for such key information about the foods they are buying) indeed discloses that the Company admits to using “biotechnology” — a buzz word for plants that are genetically modified to enhance certain supposedly desirable traits, such as resistance to pesticides or higher yield.   As the lawsuit points out, genetically modified organisms and plants are not “natural” in that they do not naturally occur outside of a laboratory — in other words they necessitate artificial, high-tech, genetic intervention to create them.  They are, thus, man-made.  That is, nature, despite its many years in business, never created such organisms or plants on its own.  As the lawsuit further asserts, most consumers purchasing oils labeled “100% Natural” would not reasonably expect that genetically modified organisms and plants are used in those cooking oils.  To see the Court Complaint, click here. http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/06/29/Conagra.pdf




The lawsuit may be the first (tiny) step in changing the ongoing abuse of the term “Natural” and perhaps the unfair consumer confusion that has caused many more consumers to buy “Natural Products” as opposed to USDA Certified Organic ones.  A shift in food labeling options would mean that Whole Foods might not be able to label its conventional chickens, as “All Natural,” even though the birds are fed the same genetically modified corn and soybeans that are also used in those Wesson cooking oils.  According to the Organic Consumers Association, “what most green consumers don’t understand yet, is that most of the so-called “natural” processed foods and animal products…Either they contain GMO ingredients like soy, corn, canola, cottonseed oil or sugar beet sweetener, or else the animals have been force-fed fed a steady diet of GMO grains and drugs.”  http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_22991.cfm




As for as red meat and poultry, for example, the USDA has a bare bones definition for “natural,” which leaves out all the key attributes of what consumers would typically consider natural, including:


i)  WHAT THE ANIMALS ARE FED:  It is perfectly permissible under Federal Law for Beef or Chicken to be called “natural” even though the animals are  fed Genetically Modified Food/Organisms and Chemicals.  In fact, the following chemicals, are all approved by the government as additives in the feed of beef and dairy cattle:


  • (a) Formaldehyde (allowed under 21 CFR 573.460).  Formaldehyde  has been classified as a Known Human Carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the National Institutes of Health and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  In humans, the chemical leads to leukemia and respiratory cancers.  It also causes cancer in animals exposed to it, including leukemia, lymphoma, nasal tumors, testicular tumors, rare tumors of the breast, stomach and intestines.  http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/twelfth/Addendum.pdf  (See also http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737003)



  • (c) Ammonia (21 CFR 573.180), a poison according to the NIH, and a Known Human Respiratory and Skin Toxin;


  • (d) Other Cattle, disturbingly turning vegetarians into carnivores and cannibals (21 CFR 573.200),


  • (e) Cyanuric acid, found in urine, which chemical led to kidney failure and death in children and pets due to its presence in milk and pet food in 2007-2008. (21 CFR 573.220);


  • (f) Heavy Metals, such as Lead and Arsenic (21 CFR 573.870), which are both listed as a carcinogens and developmental toxins under Prop 65 Law.



  • (h) Vinyl (21 CFR 573.870) and Petroleum (21 CFR 573.720) etc.,




(ii) HOW THE ANIMALS ARE RAISED (i.e., it doesn’t matter if they are confined in their own feces, and not free to roam, the government says they can still be called “natural”),


(iii) THE USE OF ANTIBIOTICS (which by law can be freely used through-out with “natural” animals, and even the day or two before slaughter).  See 21 CFR Part 558.


(iv) THE USE OF HORMONE IMPLANTS under the cattle’s skin is fulling permissible under Federal Law for s0-called “natural” beef.  The implants regularly release estrogenic (Estradiol, Progesterone, Zeranol) and androgenic growth hormones (Testosterone & Trenbolate Acetate) into the cattle’s bodies for years on end, introducing the elevated hormones into animals of the opposite sex. (See fn 1 for a statement from the USDA on the specific hormones allowed to be used in cattle).



(v) RADIATION:  Animal feed is exposed to radiation as a disinfectant,  and this too is perfectly permissible, (21 CFR 579.22).  According to EPA, “ionizing radiation, including that of cobalt-60, is known to cause cancer.”  http://www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/cobalt.html


The definition of “natural” also permits the use of “minimal” processing, but which is indeed still processing.   And unlike the accredited third-party certifications that are required for USDA organics, manufacturers making “natural” claims are essentially taken at their word, making it very profitable to attach a natural label and an increased price tag.  Moreover, where it comes to every other product on the market making “natural” claims, even these meaningless gestures aren’t necessary.  Anything goes.


The Solution: Look for the USDA Organic Seal.



According to the USDA, where it comes to cattle, “Estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone (three natural hormones), and zeranol and trenbolone acetate (two synthetic hormones) may be used as an implant on the animal’s ear. The hormone is time released, and is effective for 90 to 120 days. In addition, melengesterol acetate, which can be used to suppress estrus, or improve weight gain and feed efficiency, is approved for use as a feed additive.” http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/beef_from_farm_to_table/index.asp#3.

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