On the surface, it may appear that natural and organic are the same thing. In marketing, however, they are two very different words. “Green” or environmentally friendly is a very popular selling point these days, but often the general public is not thoroughly informed about what that means. Advertisers and marketers can take advantage of uninformed consumers, and market items as “natural” when they may not be.
According to Organic It’s Worth It, the term “natural” is not regulated by the USDA, the FDA or any other third party. Using that word on packaging is entirely up to the discretion of the company selling the product. Often, it is implied that the product is not highly processed or contains less artificial ingredients than other similar products, but there is no guarantee that this is true. If a marketer believes it will help the product sell, they can use the term “natural” on the packaging.
The word “organic” is different. Products labeled “organic” are strictly regulated by a third party. Any product that uses the label must be certified by the USDA. Products that are labeled “organic” promise that no herbicides or pesticides have been used in the growth of the raw materials, and no hormones or antibiotics have been given to animals. Each organic producer must pass a rigorous certification process.
This does not necessarily mean you should not buy natural products or that natural is bad. It means you need to do more work to know what you are getting. You should always read the labels and do a little research to that you understand exactly what you are buying and why the producer chose to label the product “natural.” Look for ingredients that you recognize, that don’t have long, confusing names. These ingredients are more likely to be healthy for you. When you are in doubt, and “organic” is an option, choose organic. Organic bedding, for example, does not have any chemicals involved in the growth of the cotton, unlike sheets labeled ‘natural’ which most likely does.
“Natural” may also be a term used by small scale growers that can not afford the expensive certification process. Knowing your local farmers and asking questions at farmers markets can help you know exactly what processes are used to grow the product you are purchasing. In these cases, natural may mean organic.
Remember, “natural” is a marketing term (not necessarily good or bad) and “organic” is a certification. It is up to you, the consumer, to stayed informed and make wise purchases. Have you ever been disappointed by a “natural” product?