Organic Certification is Based on Stringent Federally Regulated Standards
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program maintains and enforces the federally regulated standards (more than 500 pages!) that govern the use of the term organic.
Only growers, processors, and handlers who have been certified to be producing food in accordance with those rigorous standards may call their products organic. Any one found in violation of these standards is subject to stiff federal and civil penalties.
There Are No Federally Regulated Standards for Natural
Many people think the words "natural" or "all natural" on a food label means it contains no artificial ingredients, GMOs, synthetics, pesticides, artificial hormones or antibiotics, just like organic. BUT THAT'S NOT TRUE.
At present, there is no widely applicable standard for what "natural" means in food. The US Food & Drug Association (FDA) defines "natural" for beef and chicken as: no artificial ingredients or added colors, and if it wasn't "fundamentally altered" during processing.
But consumer groups and others have long asked the FDA to provide a definition for food in general and this has been in process for years. The FDA took public comments on the topic in 2016 and had made no further comments or progress on the topic. However, the agency recently indicated (March 2018) that it would be defining the term "natural" for use on food labels.
As of now, "natural" only means what the company producing the food wants it to mean. So if it matters to you, you must do your research with the producer and not assume that we have a shared definition for "natural."
As more and more consumers gravitate toward whole, fresh, real food, OPN believes this lack of clarity causes a great deal of confusion for the consumer. Add in terms like "free-range," "non-GMO," "hormone-free" and others on food labels and consumer confusion deepens.
Organic is a meaningful label, based on certification to rigorous standards and enforcement of those standards. Unlike "natural," the definition of organic food is clear: IT MUST BE PRODUCED USING APPROVED ORGANIC FARMING METHODS "THAT FOSTER CYCLING OF RESOURCES, PROMOTE ECOLOGICAL BALANCE, AND CONSERVE BIODIVERSITY. Specifically, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used to produce organic food, meaning that organic food products are not genetically modified and have not been treated with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.