In comments submitted May 10 to the FDA, the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. (GMA) called on the agency to more clearly define the use of the term “natural” in food labeling.
The association's comments said farming and agricultural methods used in the production of a crop -- including pesticide or herbicide use, the use of biotech seeds or animal husbandry (e.g., “free range,” “grass fed,” “fair trade”) -- should not have a bearing on the “natural” status of a food or ingredient.
GMA provided suggestions on how the term “natural” should be defined and said all types of food that meet the criteria should be allowed to use the term. But as an alternative approach, the associated proposed a three-tier system:
- "All natural” or “100% natural”
- "Made with natural ____” where specific ingredient(s) are highlighted as natural.
"We also strongly believe a natural definition should permit the rational addition of nutrients to a food in accordance with FDA’s Fortification Policy," GMA said.
“Our industry is committed to providing consumers with labeling information in the clearest possible terms in order for them to make informed product purchases,” said Karin Moore, GMA’s senior vice president and general counsel. “It is critically important for FDA to clearly define the term ‘natural’ to alleviate confusion for consumers and industry alike and to set a standard that will promote fair and consistent dealing in the marketplace among food and beverage manufacturers.
“The criteria used to determine if a food qualifies for a ‘natural’ claim should focus primarily on whether the product’s ingredients are synthetic/artificial or natural and on the degree of processing the ingredients have undergone,” said Moore.
Last November, FDA said it was seeking comments on the use of the term “natural.” GMA had filed a citizen petition with FDA in 2014 asking the agency to set a definition for the term, one of three petitions on the subject filed with the agency. In addition, some federal courts have requested clarification from FDA on the proper use of the term “natural” in food labeling due to ongoing litigation on this topic.