With more than 3,300 comments filed since Nov. 12, the Food and Drug Administration has extended its deadline for accepting public input on the use of the word "natural" on food labels. The deadline of Feb. 10 is now May 10.
The move was made in direct response to requests from the public, according to the FDA.The agency issued a request for comments and information after receiving three citizen petitions asking for the term, natural, to be defined. Another citizen petition asked to prohibit the use of the word on food labels because it can mislead consumers. "Due to the complexity of this issue, the FDA is committed to providing the public with more time to submit comments. The FDA will thoroughly review all public comments and information submitted before determining its next steps," the agency states on its website.
The FDA also notes that some federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations about whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled natural.
The large majority of comments filed as of Jan. 3 were from individuals concerned about genetically engineered foods, preservatives, additives and antibiotic use in animals. But a few organizations have filed comments, including the American Nurses Association, Silver Spring Md., which wants the agency to ban the use of the word “natural” on genetically engineered foods or foods containing any genetically engineered ingredients.
The North American Meat Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association also requested more time to prepare comments and compile information. The two groups point out that the FDA is seeking comments on 16 questions and issues related to the use of natural on food labels. Existing brand names is just one of the complicated issues the meat and grocery groups believe will require detailed scrutiny.