FDA “Natural” Food Labeling

On November 12, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) announced that it is soliciting public comments on how the Agency should define the term “natural” and regulate its use in food labeling. The FDA has engaged the public’s input after receiving two Citizen Petitions requesting the agency take action on establishing a formal definition of the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one asking that the agency prohibits the use of the term “natural” on food labels.

The FDA also notes that this recent move is driven by recent private litigation surrounding the term “natural” in which some federal courts requested administrative determinations from the FDA as to the propriety of labeling of food products containing genetically engineered ingredients or high fructose corn syrup as “natural.”

While FDA regulations presently do not offer a formal definition of the term “natural,” the Agency has maintained a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural” in human food labeling. FDA’s nonbinding guidance on this subject defines “natural” as “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in or has been added to, food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”  Although this policy touches on the qualitative aspects of food, this policy does not address production methods and food processing or manufacturing methods. Further, the FDA also does not presently consider in its non-binding guidance whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or another health benefit derived from such foods.

As part of the public comment process the FDA requests information on whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural;” suggestions as to how the agency should define “natural,” and the term’s appropriate use of the term on food labels. The FDA is accepting public comments through February 10, 2016.

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