The FDA is asking for consumer comments on the labeling term “natural”. The agency has received three Citizen Petitions asking that that term be defined in food labeling, and one Citizen Petition asking that the FDA prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. Some federal courts have asked for administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether some foods, specifically those with genetically engineered ingredients and those containing high fructose corn syrup, can be labeled “natural.”
The FDA states “it has not engaged in rule making to establish a formal definition for the term ‘natural,’ we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of ‘natural’ in human food labeling.” The term is considered to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added or included in a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.
In 2013, the Grocery Manufacturers Association petitioned the FDA to issue a regulation that would allow GMO foods to be labeled “natural”. Many consumer groups oppose that regulation and want foods that contain GMO ingredients to be labeled as such. There are also several lawsuits pending against some companies over the word “natural” on their labels, in spite of the fact that those foods contain chemicals and artificial ingredients.
But the longstanding FDA policy was not intended to cover food production methods, such as pesticide use, and it did not explicitly address food manufacturing or processing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also didn’t consider whether the word “natural” should describe nutritional or health benefits.
The public is asked to common on some questions: whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural”, if so, how the agency should define it, and how the agency should determine appropriate use of that term on labels.
You can submit your comment to the FDA beginning November 12, 2015. Visit regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.