FDA Extends Comment Period on Use of "Natural" in Food Labels

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is extending the period to receive comments on the use of the term “natural” in the labeling of human food products, including foods that are genetically engineered or contain ingredients produced through genetic engineering.  The initial deadline was February 10, 2016, but various groups, including the International Dairy Foods Association and the Natural Products Association, requested an extension. The FDA just extended the comment deadline to May 10, 2016.

The FDA requested public comment on the use of the word “natural” because of pressure from the public and the modernization of our food choices and of production methods. In addition, federal judges have asked for clarification of the use of the word “natural” in several court cases involving corn syrup and other products. Various petitioners asked the FDA to define “natural,” and at least one petitioner asked the FDA to ban the word in labeling altogether.

According to their website, “[a]lthough 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 currently considers the term “natural” to mean that nothing in the product is artificial or synthetic. “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 says. In its request for comments, the FDA asked commenters to address whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,” how the agency should define “natural,” and how it should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

Comments may be submitted electronically on www.regulations.gov under docket number FDA-2014-N-1207.