Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is Natural, Really?

Really foggy, expecting temperatures 30 degrees above normal - ouch.

I've been meaning to write something about defining the word "natural", but because it has a tendency to raise my blood pressure, I have avoided doing so. However, a recent article titled "Is It Really Natural" got my juices going again, so here goes (and stand back)...

Though a pet peeve for a long time, last year's Natural Products Expo East sent me over the top. I can understand the industry is in flux and an Expo needs "to make money", but to some degree they sell their soul to the devil. I wish I had had a buck for every time I saw the word "natural". The word was everywhere, the products, not so much.

How is that corn tortilla chips, made from genetically modified corn is called "natural"? How is it that soaps with sodium laureth sulfate are allowed? And how is that companies that do not disclose their ingredients get their foot in the door?

Burt's Bees (bought out by Clorox) had a huge presence at the Expo. While their ingredients are less benign than standard beauty care products, they still have fragrance in about half of their products (fragrance scores and ouchy 8 on the cosmetic data base). Treehugger cautions pregnant women to avoid fragrance (not sure why ALL people shouldn't..) I'm also not sure why Treehugger is a big fan of Burt's Bees when there are so many other companies who have better ingredients and are based in organics (better for earth and human use). The take home message here is, if you want to use Burt's, read the label carefully.

My next bug-a-boo at the expo was Mrs. Myers. The display was large and very old fashion, reminiscent of years gone by. (I guess that is suppose to be good) I literally had to hold my breath because of the artificial fragrance. (you can smell it in the grocery isle too) To get to the point, Mrs. Meyer's uses artificial fragrance, parabens and other synthetics that they will not reveal. On their own website it reads: "We use naturally derived ingredients whenever possible from corn, sugar cane, coconut and palm. When we cannot find a plant-derived ingredient that performs to our rigorous standards, we use ingredients from the world of safe synthetics...Our fragrances contain natural essential oils and other non-natural ingredients ..." (the corn and sugar cane could be GMO)

The term "the world of safe synthetics" is totally laughable. They won't tell you the details. And neither will their more expensive version Caldrea; still using non-descript words like fragrance, preservatives, plant derived surfactants and coloring.

Yet the expensive Mrs. Meyer's is allowed to sell their goods at a natural products expo. @%!*&^^$ At least Shaklee wasn't there - the biggest green washing company who holds its secret ingredients tighter than a you know what. And shame on all the Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and food COOPS who sell these products.

So what is really natural? What should be considered truly natural?

There is a standard that the relatively new Natural Products Association has come up with, which I suppose is better than nothing. But it still leaves too much wiggle room for too many companies, in my humble opinion.

So, back to the issue. What is really natural? Try this: non-genetically modified plant based, plant preservatives, and no fragrance (we assume fragrance is artificial vs essential oils) and that's it. Did I miss something? Oh, and organic would be an added benefit, like Dr. Bronner's or Vermont Soap Organics.