Organic & Natural Health Association abandons plan to develop a “natural” seal program.

  • As the food industry is well aware, significant risk, debate, and confusion surround the use of “natural” claims in food labeling and advertising.  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.  For years, industry stakeholders have debated the benefits of a “natural” definition and how to go about creating one.  In 2014, stakeholders formed the “Organic & Natural Health Association” (Organic & Natural) and announced a plan to create transparent and objective criteria for the use of the term, “natural,” along with a voluntary regulatory compliance and certification program.
  • In late January 2016, Organic & Natural announced its plan to abandon the “natural” seal initiative.  At the group’s annual conference, the CEO announced that a conflict of interest existed between trying to define “natural” standards and issuing a “natural” seal.  Particularly in light of FDA’s ongoing request for information and comments from interested stakeholders on the use of the term “natural” in food labeling — which some see as a signal of potential future regulatory action in this area — Organic & Natural is concerned about the ability to create an industry-sponsored certification program with sufficient buy-in.  The group now will shift its focus to developing a “natural” definition and educating consumers about the meaning of this term.
  • FDA recently extended its deadline for accepting comments on the “natural” definition to May 10, 2016, so interested stakeholders are encouraged to submit their positions to the Agency over the next few months.  It is not clear whether or when FDA ultimately will take formal regulatory action to define the term, “natural,” so the food industry still may continue to operate in the realm of risk and ambiguity for years to come.