The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday said it would explore the use of the term "natural" on food packaging in response to consumers' requests and the changing nature of food production.
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The FDA said it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term "natural" for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term "natural" on food labels.
FDA said the comment period comes also as some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, 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."
"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," an FDA statement said.
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.
The FDA also did not consider whether the term "natural" should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.
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 is accepting public comments beginning on November 12, 2015. To electronically submit comments to the docket, visit regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.