Plenty of foods in U.S. grocery stores have the word “natural” on their labels, but there is no government definition of the term and little control over its use.
That could change soon, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now seeking public input on the use of the word “natural” on food product labels.
The agency has received three citizen petitions asking it to define the term “natural” on food labels and another petition asking it to ban the use of the word on food labels.
And some federal courts have asked the FDA to determine whether food products that contain genetically modified ingredients or those with high fructose corn syrup can be labeled as “natural.”
“Because of the changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and in direct response to consumers who have requested that the FDA 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 FDA said Tuesday in a news release.
“Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term ‘natural,’ we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of ‘natural’ in human food labeling,” the agency said.
“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,” according to the news release.
“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 said.
The agency also has yet to take a position on whether “natural” should be linked to any nutritional or other health benefit.
The FDA is seeking comment on issues such as whether and how it should define the term “natural,” and how to determine the appropriate use of the term on food labels.
Public comments will be accepted beginning Nov. 12.
Here’s where you can go to submit comments about the use of the term “natural” on food labels.
To submit comments by mail, the address is:
Division of Dockets Management
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 20852
The FDA asks that you include docket number FDA-2014-N-1207 on each page of your written comments.