FDA Seeking to Define “Natural” for Food Labeling
January 19, 2016
As store shelves become crowded with products that feature food labeling purporting to be “natural,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking the public to weigh in on what the term means.Consumer petitions asking that the FDA define the term “natural” for use in food labeling prompted the agency to take formal action. A press statement announcing the request for public comment also noted that federal courts have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”
In a 2014 letter to several federal court judges, the FDA stated that its existing policy defined “natural” label on food products as meaning “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all 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 the food.” The FDA now acknowledges that its policy is in serious need of an update. “[T]his 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,” the FDA stated. The FDA has not committed to sanctioning a specific definition of “natural” to be applied in food product labeling. Rather, the agency is specifically seeking information and public comment on questions such as:
- Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”
- If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and
- How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.