From ice cream to salad dressing, and potato chips to pet food, health-conscious grocery shoppers can choose an "all natural" version of just about anything.
But one item ingredient-conscious consumers can't pluck off the shelves: an official definition of "natural."
A recent spate of consumer lawsuits allege that food companies are playing fast-and-loose with the "all natural" designation, effectively committing fraud against the shopping public. But determining fraud becomes complicated when the federal government itself concedes the rule book is vague.
"The word hasn't been defined well enough at all, so for years companies have been able to get away with basically defining it themselves," said Michele Simon, an author and food-policy expert.
Wesson cooking oils, Kashi cereals, Arizona-brand drinks and an alcoholic beverage called Skinnygirl Margarita are among the products named in recent lawsuits, with allegations that claims of being "all natural" are undercut by various ingredients.