The world “natural” doesn’t mean much, if anything, on most food packaging. Consumers often confuse it with “organic,” and manufacturers and marketers prey on that confusion. Natural is, by and large, a marketing ploy. As Marion Nestle notes, the FDA provides the following stupifying non-definition:
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.
Nestle notes that “In contrast, the USDA is way ahead [of the FDA] and has defined what “natural’ means for meat and poultry products. ‘Naturally raised’ means no growth promoters, antibiotics, animal by-products, or fish by-products.” Check out Nestle’s piece with its many links as well as this post from Harvest Public Media, which also includes some informative links.
For a probing analysis of the use of “natural” as a marketing term for breakfast cereals, check out the “Cereal Crimes” report and “Cereal Scorecard” available from The Cornucopia Institute and watch the video below.