It’s Time to Change Tack Navigating “Natural” Claims

Reading the news this morning, I came across an industry article about yet another class action suit over natural claims, this one against Whole Foods Market and their use of a leavening agent, sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), in some of their baked goods.

Honestly, my immediate reaction was to feel badly for Whole Foods. They are an organization who has consistently shown leadership on this topic. In the face of confusion from food manufacturers, lack of guidance from government and mountains of technical details, Whole Foods has done the hard work to set standards (and the bar) for the natural food industry for years. Their Unacceptable Ingredients List which dictates what is and is not allowed in foods sold on their store shelves has had an immeasurable benefit on shaping the natural products industry. (The fact that a list like this is even necessary should be a major indicator as to the state of food today.) Not to mention additional trailblazing efforts such as their 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system and their announcement last year regarding GMO labeling.

Unfortunately, whether or not you are doing the right thing doesn’t seem to be a consideration factor for getting pulled into a class action lawsuit. Prominence and the resulting amount of publicity and chances for a large settlement seem to be the only criteria to consider.

Having experienced firsthand the toll these suits take on a business in terms of hours worked, money spent and, most importantly, focus and energy taken away from making food better for people and planet, I really believe it’s time to change tack. Instead of working in isolation as brands and businesses, trying to get a handle on the quickly evolving natural and organic landscape behind closed doors while simultaneously hoping we aren’t the next ones to be made an example of in court, what if we pooled our resources and learnings on this issue? If my experience is any indication, we’ve all learned a lot and together should be able to connect the missing dots, solve the mysteries of modern food production once and for all and move the definition of natural forward in a productive, collaborative way. Waiting around for government to tell us what to do clearly isn’t wise, so let’s get together and get ourselves sorted so we can prove to our consumers that we really do know what’s going on and that we have their health and best interests at heart.

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