Sunday, March 24, 2013

“Synthetic” vs. “Natural” . The debate goes on.

We all have our own opinion regarding what "ALL NATURAL" means. Surprisingly, the opinions are as vast as the informational articles clarifying or disputing one opinion versus another. Is there a right or wrong opinion? Who can say? As with all of us, the true definition is what we each belive it to be.

It has always annoyed the life out of me to see handmade products highly advertised as "ALL NATURAL" but on examination of the ingredients, find highly controversial synthetic ingredients, generally the ingredients being used as a preservative. To me, ALL NATURAL means use of ingredients found in nature. Period. Perhaps I am wrong.

In researching this topic in an effort to educate myself, I did learn some interesting facts. Scientific facts, not someone's opinion, should be considered when educating oneself on the never to be settled controversy of what is natural and why or how is it better than synthetic.

According the U.S. National Organics Program (NOP), a natural substance is derived from a plant, mineral or animal source, without having undergone a synthetic process . Physical and biological processes can still render a substance as natural. A good example would be a food product such as corn. When dried corn kernels are removed from the cob, milled and turned into corn flour there has been a physical change, but is still considered natural.

A synthetic substance is a compound which is made artificially through chemical reactions. Natural substances have been chemically modified through human labour or skill to yield substances which are chemically different from the pre-reaction substances. The NOP definition of a synthetic is a substance which has been formulated or manufactured by a chemical process, and has chemically altered a substance which was derived from a naturally occurring plant, mineral or animal source.

When contemplating synthetic versus natural we are considering the difference between how each is made or how they come into being. Structurally there is not any difference between their molecules. The molecules are identical.

Believe it or not, water can be "made" in a lab.What makes water act like water is its molecular structure, that is, the type of atoms its molecules contain and how they are arranged relative to each other, and not how the molecule was built in the first place. Does making it in a lab make water any less "NATURAL"? Hmm. How would this be any different than manipulating other molecules in the lab to "create" other "natural" products?

One important difference between substances found in nature and those synthesized in the lab, however, can be the difference in cost. For example, substances which occur in nature in small quantities that are hard to extract from the plant or animal in which they occur, can be very expensive. So one great advantage of being able to unravel nature’s secrets and reproduce them in the lab is that, once the process is discovered, it becomes much cheaper to synthesize substances in the lab than it is to get them from nature.

Needless to say, the controversity over natural versus synthetic, or even what defines natural, will go on as long as life itself.

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