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When 'natural' foods just aren't 

LowDown

Years ago the delightfully naughty movie star, Mae West, said: "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

Less delightful are some of the purity claims of such food manufacturing giants as PepsiCo, which has long marketed a line of its Frito-Lay snack foods as "Simply Natural." Natural? Anyone who's ever looked at one of the company's strangely puffed, caterpillaresque, cheese-powdered Cheetos would have a hard time believing nature had anything to do with the concoctions. Sure enough, PepsiCo has quietly dropped the volatile "natural" claim from its snack packages, rebranding them with just the word "Simply."

The multibillion-dollar food maker says the shift is merely a routine adjustment of its marketing scheme — but it happens to have come only after consumer groups have taken Pepsi, Campbell Soup and other manufacturers to court in the past couple of years, successfully challenging their use of the "natural" phrase as deceptive hype.

PepsiCo settled one of its cases last year by paying out $9 million to the challengers and agreeing to stop labeling its Naked Juice brand as "all natural." A marketing pitch for these drinks had bragged that they were "the freshest, purest stuff in the world." The naked truth, however, was that they were not only juiced up with artificial vitamins and synthetic fibers, but also included an additive made from formaldehyde — a cancer-causing compound.

The conglomerates say that advertising terms like "natural" are widely misunderstood by us stupid consumers. Well, there they go again, drifting from the truth and perverting plain English.

"Natural" simply means what it says: Natural. As in, go squeeze an orange, and don't dose it with formaldehyde and lies. To keep up with the industry's drift from purity, link up with the Organic Consumers Association: organicconsumers.org.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.

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