FDA Requests Comments on Use of the Term 'Natural' on Food Labels

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Nov 10, 2015

The changing landscape of food ingredients and production and requests from consumers who have asked the Food and Drug Administration to explore the use of the term "natural" has prompted the agency to seek comments from the public for information on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products. Having avoided the issue for years, the FDA has recently received three citizen petitions asking that it define the term "natural" on food labels, and a fourth asking that it prohibit the term on food labels, the FDA says.

"We also note that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, 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,'" the agency stated in a release.

"Although the FDA hasn't engaged in rule making to create a formal definition for the term "natural," it does have a longstanding policy concerning the use of "natural" in human food labeling," it announced.

"The FDA has considered the term 'natural' to mean that 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 that food. However, this 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," it stated,  nor did it clarify the status of foods containing high fructose corn syrup or GMOs. 

The agency specifically wants answers on :

  • 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.

The move was unexpected, since the FDA earlier "respectfully declined" to act on natural claims last year or address the issue on different occasions. The agency is accepting public comments beginning on November 12.

To electronically submit comments to the FDA's docket, visit http://www.regulations.gov, and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box. To mail comments to the docket, use the following address. Be sure to include docket number FDA-2014-N-1207on each page of your written comments.

Division of Dockets Management
HFA-305
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 20852
For more information, see the Federal Register Notice at www.federalregister.gov

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