FDA Requesting Comments on Use of the Term "Natural"

November 10, 2015

The announcement may be a sign that FDA is inching closer to establishing a formal definition of what "natural" means on food labeling.

In a sign that FDA may finally be inching toward creating a formal definition of the term natural, the agency announced this morning that it is seeking public comments on the use of the term on food labeling. The move marks a possible shift in the agency’s approach to natural claims, a labeling issue it has historically avoided addressing with a formal definition.

Consumers and food companies alike have long called for FDA to issue a formal definition of natural, with the need for federal clarification particularly evident in a recent survey from NMI (Natural Marketing Institute, Harlesville, PA). The survey found that one third of U.S. adults do not believe there is a difference between natural and organic labeling, and nearly half of U.S. adults think many organic characteristics also apply to natural foods.

FDA’s announcement was prompted by three citizen petitions asking FDA to define natural for use in food labeling, and one citizen petition asking FDA to prohibit use of the term on food labels, according to the announcement posted online.

“Because of the changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and in direct response to consumers who have requested that the FDA explore the use of the term natural, the agency is asking the public to provide information and comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products,” reads the update.

The agency also cited requests from federal courts for determinations from FDA whether natural labeling could be applied to ingredients produced through genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
 

In requesting comments, FDA is specifically interested in the following questions:

·      Whether it is appropriate to define the term natural

·      If so, how the agency should define natural

·      How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels
 

FDA’s announcement also explains that while the agency has avoided establishing a formal definition of natural in the past, it has considered the term to mean “nothing artificial or synthetic (including color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.”

However, the agency’s past guidance has not addressed the inclusion of genetically modified organisms in products labeled as natural, as well as a range of other factors that consumers may not associate with natural products.

Regarding its previous stance toward natural, FDA explained, “this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term natural should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”

FDA is accepting public comments beginning on November 12, 2015. To submit comments, visit http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.

 

Read more:

What’s the Difference Between Natural and Organic Foods? Don’t Ask Consumers

"Natural" and "All Natural" Claims Still Undefined

 

Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook Magazine
michael.crane@ubm.com