We live in an ever–changing world with ever–changing information about what the best or the healthiest products are to benefit our lives. Whether it’s a pet product or a personal product, it seems that every time I find something that I’m happy with, here comes the “new and improved” or “now better tasting,” or the one that I think can be the most confusing—“natural.” I always assumed the term “natural” had an obvious definition; it must mean that all the ingredients are, in fact, all natural. But why isn’t that always the case?
The term “natural” evokes the impression that something is made from natural ingredients, but that’s not necessarily always true, so the term can be misleading.
When it comes to grooming products, there’s a difference between natural products and organic products…and there’s a difference between a natural approach and a holistic approach. The definition of “natural” in the Merriam–Webster dictionary, as it pertains to nature, has thirteen different definitions. But, the long and short of it is, the word means it’s derived from nature.
According to the USDA, for a product to be labeled “natural,” it must contain no artificial ingredients or added color, and must be minimally processed. This definition is a bit vague, especially with the term “minimally processed,” as it leaves room for interpretation.
However, the definition of “organic” leaves little room for interpretation. According to the USDA, for a product to be labeled “organic,” the ingredients must have been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Specifically, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering must not have been used. That definition alone is an eye–opener; the fact that they have to specify that sewage sludge should not have been used in its cultivation speaks volumes to what non–organic methods can consist of.
So, now that we’ve got an understanding of the difference between the term “natural” and the term “organic,” and the regulations surrounding their definitions, we also have to consider other factors of natural products. If we’re speaking about pet food or treats, the term “natural “ means not artificial; however, it doesn’t stop the product from containing hormones.
For example, if you buy your dog a protein–based treat like a jerky treat or freeze–dried meat treat, and the label states that the product is “natural,” it means the meat is not artificially produced or flavored, but it does not mean the meat is organic. In this instance, the meat can (and likely does) contain hormones.
If the product we’re speaking about is a shampoo or conditioner, the term “natural” refers to no artificial ingredients and the base of the product being plant–derived and free from sulfates (artificial lathering agents often added to commercial products).
As if it wasn’t already confusing enough, there’s yet another term we often see in the wave of health–conscious pet products, and that term is “holistic.” The term “holistic” is generally defined as, “in consideration of the whole,” meaning that ingredients are whole ingredients and not heavily processed or artificial. Interestingly, the term “holistic” has no legal definition in reference to ingredients. Holistic–labeled products are not regulated by the FDA or the USDA, which do regulate organic products.
The term “holistic” in pet foods is generally used as a marketing term to infer a more whole and healthy product. But, in actuality, since the term is not regulated, it’s often used freely. So unless it’s accompanied by the term “natural,” the holistic labeling really has no meaningful value.
The overuse or misuse of terms like “holistic,” “natural” or “organic” can be misleading to consumers, so it’s always best to read labels and ingredient lists for more clarity.
In a world of constantly improving research about health and nutrition, our products will continue to change and improve as well. Marketing can be confusing or deceiving, but doing a little bit of research and becoming educated about the products we use for our furry friends can go a long way in improving their lives and their health. ✂️