By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Food labeling regulations, naturally.

Trader Joe’s agreed to pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit recently over the claims on its food labels that said the products were 100% natural – even though, according to the lawsuit, the products contained cocoa processed with alkali, or contained xanthum gum or sodium acid pyrophosphate. Easy for you to say.

It used to be that we all had a simple definition of what a food label meant when it said “all natural” – tastes gross, costs more. As for a legal definition, food labels – like the ingredient list – are strictly regulated by the FDA and must accurately state what’s in the food you’re eating. But as for words like “natural”, not so much.

According the FDA, 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. The FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. But they’re ok with labels that use it if the product doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. So that’s as clear as natural mud. Which is what it probably tastes like.

Your takeaway: read and understand the ingredients list on the back of the package rather than the claim that it’s natural on the front.

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