Dictionary.com defines natural as "not artificial" or "having undergone little or no processing and containing no chemical additives." When I think of "natural" I think of things "as Nature made them" - a tree, a flower, an apple, a bunch of carrots. I can recognize natural products in more or less their original form and can usually figure out whether they're good for me or instead pose some kind of threat (think "natural" poison ivy).
Businesses have long appreciated how much they have to gain by marketing their goods as "natural." It's why they've plastered the word all over products that, ironically, couldn't be farther from their natural state...like "natural" cheese puffs, crayola-colored gummy worms, ice cream that contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cocoa processed with alkali, and cleansers, soaps, toothpaste, and make-up that contain lye or lead.
Products like these slide by as "natural" because no law prevents any manufacturer or retailer from claiming they are (unlike the label "organic," which is strictly defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and whose use is policed by both the federal government and consumer groups.) That's why I and many other consumer advocates encourage shoppers to ignore words like natural, earth-friendly, or something else equally appealing but ambiguous. There's no way to know what they really mean.
The Natural Products Association wants to clarify the debate. The group, which represents more than 10,000 retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of natural foods, dietary supplements, and health/beauty aids has issued a Natural Products Association Standard and Certification for Home Care Products like household cleaners, laundry detergents, and concentrated and ready to use hard-surface cleaners (they've previously issued a similar standard for personal care products). Only products certified under the standard can bear the NPA natural home care seal, which is supposed to signal to consumers that the product can be trusted.
Can it? Or is the standard just a clever attempt by companies better known for harsh and toxic ingredients to greenwash their products and cash in on the "natural" craze?