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FDA Requests Comments on the Use of “Natural” on Food Labels

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested information and comments on the term "natural" in food labeling and advertising. In the request, FDA noted that the action is being taken, in part, because the Agency has received multiple Citizen Petitions requesting a formal definition for the term "natural." The Agency also noted its receipt of requests from federal courts seeking FDA's views on whether foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be considered "natural."

Currently, FDA's informal policy is that "natural" means nothing artificial (including artificial flavors) 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 the food. FDA explained that its policy was not intended to address food production, processing, or manufacturing methods, such as the use of pesticides, thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation.

In its request for comment, FDA poses a series of questions regarding whether/how to define the term "natural." Agency action in this area ultimately may be dictated by federal GM labeling legislation; a House bill passed in July 2015 would require FDA to define the term "natural" for use on food labels. In the meantime, FDA invites comment on nuanced issues such as whether manufacturing processes should be considered in determining whether a food may be called "natural;" whether and how consumers compare/confuse "organic," "natural," and "healthy;" and whether the use of genetic engineering should influence the applicability of "natural" terminology. FDA will be accepting comments on the "natural" definition issues until February 10, 2016.