Recent years have brought lots of litigation about food products that are labeled as "all natural" but contain highly processed or "unnatural" ingredients. Dating back much further, the Food and drug Administration has long acknowledged the confusing and even misleading use of the term, but until today, the agency had not used its regulatory authority to define what it means for a food to be "all natural." Today, the FDA announced:
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. ….
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 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.
Specifically, 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's request for comments is here.