FDA requests comments on “natural” definition.

  • As food industry stakeholders are well aware, the use of the term “natural” in food labeling and advertising is fraught with ambiguity and risk of challenge.  FDA’s informal policy is that “natural” means nothing artificial (including artificial flavors) 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.  In reality, however, the definition of “natural” frequently is revisited and restricted by the litigation landscape.
  • FDA is now officially requesting information and public comment on the use of the term “natural” in food labeling.  In explaining the motivation for the request, FDA noted its receipt of multiple Citizen Petitions requesting a formal definition for the term “natural.”  The Agency also noted its receipt of multiple requests from federal courts seeking FDA’s views on whether foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be considered “natural.”
  • In its request for comment, FDA poses a series of questions regarding whether/how to define the term “natural.”  Agency action in this area ultimately may be dictated by federal GM labeling legislation; the House bill passed in July 2015 would require FDA to define the term “natural” for use on food labels.  In the meantime, FDA invites comment on nuanced issues such as whether manufacturing processes should be considered in determining whether a food may be called “natural”; whether and how consumers compare/confuse “organic”, “natural,” and “healthy”; and whether the use of genetic engineering should influence the applicability of “natural” terminology.  FDA will be accepting comments on the “natural” definition until February 10, 2016.