The Federal Trade Commission announced last week filing of four consent decrees and an administrative complaint relating to companies selling various personal care products – shampoos, sunscreens, moisturizers – featuring claims such as “all natural” or “100% natural.”  The FTC alleges that these claims were false or misleading because all of the products at issue contain one or more synthetic ingredients.

Companies that have fought consumer class actions relating to natural claims and followers of FDA’s rulemaking regarding natural claims on food products are well aware that calling something “natural” can be a lightning rod.  However, FTC has previously opted to stay above the fray, as it did when declining to include “natural” as a defined term in the revised Green Guides.  So, what’s this enforcement all about?

Simply put, it’s more about “all” than about “natural.” Based on the complaints released, the FTC’s concern is that the companies falsely stated that their products contained only natural ingredients when, in fact, they did not.  There is no discussion in the complaints about the manufacturing processes that the products undergo or whether the ingredients could be of either natural or synthetic origin.  In short, the FTC did not need to delve into how any other agency defines “natural” and did not do so.

Rather, these cases are important for two main reasons: First, they underscore the agency’s position that where advertising conveys that a product meets a certain threshold, i.e., “all” or “no,” the agency expects the products to meet those standards.  Second, although the FTC has not engaged on the “natural” issue before this, it is not afraid to use its authority on such claims to prevent alleged deception.