January 18, 2002
'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
- 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
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
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(R), 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."