FDA seeks comments on food labeling term 'natural'

Agency responds to citizens' petitions seeking definition for the term "natural" in food labeling.

Because of the changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and in direct response to consumers who have requested that the Food and Drug Administration explore the use of the term “natural,” the agency is asking the public to provide information and comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products, the agency said in a press release.

The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three citizen petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. 

FDA also noted 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.”

Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term “natural,” the agency said it does have a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural” in human food labeling. 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. 

Specifically, the FDA asks for information and public comment on questions such as:

  • 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 FDA is accepting public comments beginning on November 12, 2015. To electronically submit comments to the docket, visit www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.

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