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Organic, Cruelty-Free and Natural - What They Really Mean

It’s easy to buy into trends nowadays, but what do certain terms really mean? Things like “organic”, “cruelty-free” and “natural” get thrown around without people fully understanding what they mean. You can never be too careful with what you’re on the largest organ of your body, which is why we put together this guide to help those who are confused with labels.

Organic

Organic refers to the way any product such as fruits, grains, vegetables, make-up and skin care products, are grown and processed. Organic farming practices were put forth to encourage the conservation of soil, water and other resources. Natural methods of fertilization are used to feed plants. Mulch or crop rotation are used to manage weeds and insects in place of pesticides.

How do you know if it’s organic?

Check for products which have been deemed organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This means that the product has passed the government’s standards on how the item has been grown, handled and processed. Any product that is labeled must be certified by the USDA, unless the producer sells less than $5,000 worth of goods a year.

  • 100% Organic – product must be completely organic, or made up of all organic ingredients
  • Organic – at least 95% organic
  • Made with Organic Ingredients – at least 75% organic

Cruelty-free

Consumers may or may not be aware that some manufacturers openly experiement on animals. Cruelty-free can refer to anything that has not been tested on animals, or does not contain any ingredients that have been tested on animals. However, the latter is highly unlikely as almost all ingredients in use today have been tested on animals at one point.

Ambiguities with the label

There is no strict definition on what is “cruelty-free”, so some scientists believe that these ambiguities can render the label meaningless. The manufacturer itself may not have conducted animal testing, but instead relied on a third party to test for them. It could also mean that the manufacturer is relying on another company’s animal-test results.

What is Cruelty-Free?

Consumers need to be aware that labels that read "cruelty-free" and "not tested on animals" may not always mean what we think. As no government agency currently defines these terms, nor sets standards for their usage, it is left to each company to determine what its "cruelty-free" label means. Many scientists - including those who support alternatives - believe these ambiguities can make these labels meaningless.

Cruelty-free bears no impact on the ingredients of the product as it has more to do with the process undergone rather than the composition of the product itself. Conscientous consumers are encouraged to do in-depth research on companies before purchasing if they wish to only support “cruelty-free” brands.

Natural

Consumers often believe that “natural” products are better than others. In fact, a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey found that nearly 60% of people they contacted said they look for the term “natural” when they shop. The FDA has not released a strict definition of the term for food labels as of yet. For now, it is anything that has no artificial or synthetic ingredients in a product. “Natural” is not to be confused with “organic” and vice versa. Natural foods can still contain a wide range of questionable ingredients such as additives, preservatives, lab-produced “natural” flavors, and processed sweeteners.