The newly formed trade organization, Organic & Natural Health Association (Organic & Natural) hosted a panel discussion to advance an urgent conversation around defining "natural" at SupplySide West in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 7.
"Our first objective as an organization is to push forward and set the standard for natural products, creating transparent and objective criteria for the use of the term 'natural,' thereby putting the power of informed choice into consumers' hands and creating clear differentiation of high quality natural foods, products and services," said Karen Howard, CEO and executive director of Organic & Natural. "Defining the word 'natural' has become a priority for the natural products industry and the process needs to be expedited starting with food and food ingredients. We plan to step in and take swift action where there have been gaps within the industry."
Howard moderated the panel discussion comprised of Organic & Natural board members and industry experts. Todd Harrison, partner at Venable, LLP, and president organic and Organic & Natural, stressed the need for advocacy, research and support to prevent a barrage of lawsuits.
"The industry needs to have an honest policy discussion about evidence-based science and how it should be applied to the nutritional industry," said Harrison. "This debate is not limited to the role clinical trials play in the industry but an honest assessment of what constitutes 'natural' and 'organic.' Only when we address this issue is when we will start limiting the unnecessary lawsuits that now exists."
Joe Sandler, member of the Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C., law firm, representing Organic Consumers Association, among others, and treasurer of Organic & Natural, anticipates consumer activists will embrace the process of defining 'natural' for voluntary certification of non-food products, improving organic standards, encouraging producers to seek organic certification and setting criteria for helping avoid legal liability for use of the term in labeling food.
"Consumer advocates welcome association participation to tackle some of these difficult problems," said Sandler. "Organic & Natural Health Association can play an important role in establishing the term 'natural' and give some force to consumers without creating confusion or undermining the meaning of organic."
Alan Lewis, director of special projects for Natural Grocers says more information is better when it comes to customers in their decision making process of purchasing natural products.
"Customers are very discerning of certification seals and what they mean," said Lewis. "The biggest risk of creating a standard is creating one that's not strong enough. I think ultimately consumers will need to help set the standard for natural."
Ed Wyszumiala, CEO of GMP Auditing Partners said trade organizations need to work together on defining 'natural' with a focus on what's in the best interest of the consumer.
"All too often associations are focused on work within the industry and not the end point—the consumer," said Wyszumiala. "The association has to focus on consumers, consumers, consumers."
Michael Lelah, chief research scientist at Mercola, addressed the complexity of Organic & Natural's mission and discussed options on how the organization could be successful in ensuring compliance with its standards.
"It's really a fascinating and challenging question on how to set the definition of natural," said Lelah. "We have to get all the stakeholders together."
Howard concluded by emphasizing that the work Organic & Natural plans to do to push towards a definition of 'natural' is just a first step in the organization's mission to create and promote transparent business practices that safeguard and defend access to organic and natural food, products and services.