FDA to Consumers: What Does the Word “Natural” on Food Labels Mean to You?
The agency is now calling for public comments, so here’s your chance to weigh in
At the grocery store, you pick up a can of soup, a granola bar or a juice box with the word “natural” on the label. Does it influence your decision to buy the item?
It probably shouldn’t, since the term isn’t defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency merely provides "guidance" — and limited guidance at that — to manufacturers about when, or more specifically, when not, to use the word. (Other terms, such as “organic,” do have a legal definition.)
But that could change in the future — and here’s your chance to put in your two cents on what you think the word “natural” should mean.
Here’s how the FDA explains the issue:
“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.”
So the “natural” chicken you buy isn’t necessary free of antibiotics, “natural” produce may have been grown with pesticides, and that frozen dinner or soy-based snack may contain genetically modified organisms.
The call for public comments comes after three citizen petitions asking the agency to define the term “natural” on food labels and another petition demanding it ban the use of the term.
The FDA is also under pressure from federal courts that are examining lawsuits against manufacturers for the alleged misuse of the word “natural.” One court asked the FDA, for example, whether food products created through genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup could be labeled “natural.”
There are no easy answers, according to agency officials. “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth,” the FDA notes on its website.
Starting November 12, the FDA invites you to submit comments on a list of questions such as:
- Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural”
- If so, how the agency should define “natural”
- How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels
To do it, visit http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the