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The utter meaninglessness of the word "natural," as it is used on the labels of all sorts of dubious processed food products, is an issue we've been monitoring for quite some time. Now we have actual numbers to better illustrate just how pervasive this marketing gimmick has become.

Citing data from market research firm Nielsen, the Washington Post reports this week that more than $40 billion worth of "natural"-labeled food is sold each year — making it the most lucrative buzzword in food marketing outside of mentioning the fat content.

One reason that "natural" is so popular is that it conjures associations with health and wellness without any sort of legal standard to back it up. You see, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) has no official definition of what "natural" means, so advertisers can use it with impunity.

Here's a recent video that puts this "natural" business in perspective. It's a spoof, of course. But, the underlying message rings true. The video comes from an association of USDA-certified "organic" food companies. That term, as the Post notes, doesn't always mean what it suggests, either, but at least there's some legal standard in play with "organic."

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