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"Natural" or "Plant-Derived" Labeling Can Mislead

New Survey Shows False Consumer Confidence About Natural Claims on Rx or OTC Drugs, Foods, Herbals and Cosmetics

Source: National Consumers League (NCL)

WASHINGTON, DC —Three-quarters of Americans believe that products labeled “natural” should contain at least 90 percent or more natural ingredients and 86 percent believe products labeled “natural” are safe, according to a survey released by the National Consumers League (NCL) today.

“The reality is that natural isn’t always safe, and products with the ‘natural’ labeling are not required by law to contain only natural ingredients,” said Linda Golodner, NCL President. “Our survey shows that consumers think of words like ‘safe’ and ‘good for me’ when they think of natural, but across the board—from prescription drugs to food products—many of these natural claims are misleading at best.”

Natural or plant-derived claims on labels aren’t only found on dietary supplements and herbals. NCL has found the claim on prescription medicines, over-the-counter medications, foods, personal care products, and cosmetics. A new report released today by NCL explores government regulation of natural labeling for these products and suggests that clear definitions among all types of products are necessary to help consumers understand the meaning of the word.

For example, Anso Comfort Capsules, promoted as a “natural” herbal dietary supplement useful for treating a wide variety of illnesses, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, were found to contain the undeclared prescription drug chlordiazepoxide. Chlordiazepoxide is an addictive controlled substance used for anxiety and as a sedative, and can be dangerous if not taken under medical supervision. The distributor recalled the product and consumers were warned to immediately stop using the product.

The California Department of Human Services found in a random sample of herbal stores that 32 percent of these “natural” remedies contained either heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic, and mercury) or undeclared pharmaceuticals.

FDA does not specifically define or regulate the use of the claims “natural” or “plant-derived” for drugs, prescription or over-the-counter. Generally, drug labels or advertisements cannot make false or misleading statements. But it’s happening. For example, the marketers of Cenestin®, a prescription hormone replacement therapy drug, claim that the product contains estrogens that are 100 percent plant-derived. However, a recent analysis indicates that the estrogens are only about 65 percent plant-derived, with the balance derived from petrochemical feedstocks.

NCL’s survey results show that a majority of consumers (65 percent) falsely believe that products claiming to be “natural” must describe on the label which of the product’s ingredients or processes are natural. As more and more consumers take a leading role managing their health by carefully reading food and dietary supplement labels and learning about new medications and treatments, NCL says it is more important than ever for them to understand the claims made regarding drug products and food items.

“Just because something is on the shelf at the grocery store or drug store does not mean it’s harmless,” said Golodner. “When taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements, consumers must always be cautious of interactions with foods and medications and possible side effects, even if the product is labeled ‘natural’.”

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to identify, protect, represent, and advance the economic and social interests of consumers and workers. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization.

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