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Use of “Natural” in Food Labeling is Focus of FDA Inquiry

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Nearly 25 years after abandoning a similar attempt, the Food and Drug Administration is again considering whether to formally define the term “natural” in the labeling of human food products, including foods that are genetically engineered or contain ingredients produced through the use of genetic engineering.

Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg’s experienced food and drug attorneys can help affected companies prepare and submit comments on this issue. Contact Shelly Garg via email or at (305) 894-1043 for more information.

The FDA states that under a longstanding policy it considers “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, the FDA notes that 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 has now received three citizen petitions asking it to define “natural” for use in food labeling and one citizen petition asking it to prohibit this term on food labels. In addition, some federal courts 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.” Further, the FDA is working with the Department of Agriculture to examine the use of this term in meat, poultry and egg products.

As a result, the FDA is accepting through Feb. 10, 2016, comments and information on the following issues.

- whether the term “natural” should be defined through rulemaking and/or prohibited in food labeling

- the types of food that should be allowed to bear this term, should it be defined, and under what conditions (e.g., raw agricultural commodities, single or multi-ingredient foods, unprocessed or processed foods)

- whether consumers associate, confuse or compare “natural” with “organic” or “healthy”

- whether certain production practices used in agriculture (e.g., genetic engineering, mutagenesis, hybridization, the use of pesticides, or animal husbandry practices) should be a factor in defining


- whether manufacturing processes (e.g., drying, salting, marinating, curing, freezing, canning, fermenting, pasteurizing, irradiating or hydrolysis) should be considered in determining when a food can bear the term “natural”

- whether the manner in which an ingredient is produced or sourced should affect whether a food containing that ingredient may be labeled as “natural”

- whether “natural” should have some nutritional benefit associated with it and, if so, what

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