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Kids Food: Does the word "natural" on packaging mean anything?

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 4.44.08 PMQuestion: I’m getting tired of making all of the food I pack for the kids’ camp lunch and snacks. Does the word “natural” on packaging mean anything? Are GMOs really bad for you?

Answer:

You are so not alone with your making lunch fatigue! The short answers to your questions are:

1. Not really!

and

2.  The verdict is out. But the research isn’t looking pretty.

A longer answer: Just about anyone can stick the word “natural” on a product. The only food label that is both strictly defined and regulated by the government and requires third party certification is USDA organic. Beyond USDA organic, most terms found on food product packaging have no legal definition or regulation. This includes “natural,” as well as foods labeled with phrases like “free-range” and “vegetarian diet.” They imply a lot, but without regulation, they can largely mean anything food producers want them to mean.

Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t require safety testing for GMOs, despite research that has linked them to allergies, organ toxicity, and more. Consumers who would like to avoid GMO foods are largely on their own as they’re not required to be labelled. In the absence of labels, the following strategies can help you avoid GMOs:

1) Know which food crops are likely modified. The top 7 are corn, soy, cotton oil, alfalfa, animal feed, papaya, canola, and sugar beets.

2) Look for “non-GM” or “GMO-free” labels.

3) Choose whole, fresh foods, instead of processed food items.

4) Buy meat and foods labeled “100% certified organic;” GM ingredients are banned by USDA organic certification. Be aware that food simply labeled “organic” can contain up to 30% GMOs.

 Got questions about children’s environmental health? Send them our way with “Babble” in the subject line and we’ll be happy to answer you right here on this blog.

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