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Over the past several years, the term “natural” has appeared on numerous packaged foods, giving an impression of healthfulness. However, to date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates packaged foods, doesn’t define natural. Instead, the FDA doesn’t object to use of the term if the food doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.
But that might be changing. The FDA recently asked the public to provide information and comments on use of the term “natural” in food labeling. FDA says the reasons are the changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and to respond to consumer requests for the agency to explore use of the term.
Specifically, the FDA says it 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, according to the FDA website. The FDA also notes that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA about whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”
The FDA’s current policy is to consider use of 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.
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 here from November 12, 2015 through February 10, 2016.