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When it Comes to Advertising, Truth May be in the Eye of the Beholder

July 10, 2014

Posted in Business Litigation

Though there are laws against false advertising, businesses still have a fair amount of leeway in how to describe their products (short of being false and deceptive). Food labelling is a good example.

What would you think of a product that’s labeled as “natural”? What would that mean to you? Would you be more likely to buy it? “Natural” is a word that skillfully twists our memories, emotions and money spending thought processes but has no official meaning, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as reported by the Washington Post. The FDA states on its website,

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

The food industry sells nearly $41 billion worth of food each year labeled with the word “natural,” according to data from market research firm Nielsen. Overall about $377 billion worth of food was sold in the U.S. last year.

Think the term “organic” might be more definite? Not really, also according to the Washington Post. Under U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, products with that label could still contain insecticides and herbicides. Only 95% of the ingredients need to actually be organic to earn the “organic” label. The Washington Post also states the inspection process for products labeled organic is often superficial, inconsistent and subject to potential conflicts of interest.

The following is a graph from the Washington Post listing some of the most successful, if possibly inaccurate, food labeling terms.


When creating advertising opinions and facts are fair game, while falsely claiming your product or service is something it actually is not may violate state and federal law (though, as you can see, it’s not always a clear cut case).

If you have any questions about advertising laws, or any other business related issue, contact my office so we can discuss your situation and how the law could apply.