On November 10, 2015, the FDA announced that it will be soliciting public comments on the use of the term “natural” in food labeling. The comment period will open on November 12, 2015 and is expected to close on February 10, 2016. The FDA is specifically seeking comments on whether it should define the term “natural” and, if so, how the term should be defined. It is also seeking comments regarding the appropriate use of “natural” in food labels. The Federal Register notice formally soliciting comments will be published on November 12, 2015.
The FDA states that its decision to request comments is partly in response to three Citizen Petitions seeking clarification on the term “natural” (including one by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) requesting that the FDA “issue a regulation authorizing statements such as ‘natural’ on foods that are or contain foods derived from biotechnology”) and one Citizen Petition asking the FDA to prohibit the use of “natural” in food labels. The FDA also explains that private litigation surrounding the term “natural” has led some federal courts to seek administrative determinations from the FDA on whether food products containing genetically engineered ingredients or high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”
The FDA acknowledges that it has not previously issued a rule formally defining the term “natural,” but does reference its “longstanding policy” that the term “natural” means 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.”
Food and beverage companies considering submitting comments should consult with experienced counsel and coordinate with leading industry groups such as GMA. Companies should also continue to consult with experienced counsel to stay abreast of any further developments concerning the FDA’s position on the term “natural.”
The complete FDA announcement (including a link to the draft request for comments) can be found here.