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FDA might have Plans to Define ‘Natural’ Food

Update Date: Nov 11, 2015 04:15 PM EST
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may finally provide an official definition on the word "natural" when it comes to food.

The federal agency has requested the public to provide comments on how the term "natural" should be defined. Currently, food products, ranging from juice boxes to granola bars use this word very loosely. Since there is no FDA definition for the term, any product can claim to be natural, but not that the FDA has officially asked for public opinion on the word, many are speculating that the agency plans on regulating the term.

The FDA's news release reads:

"The FDA is taking this action in part because 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... 

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. The FDA also did not consider whether the term 'natural' should describe any nutritional or other health benefit."

This is not the first time that a federal group has attempted to define "natural" in relation to food labeling. The Federal Trade Commission tried to set boundaries during the mid-1970s but it abandoned the guidelines in 1983 after discovering that tracking food products with the label was too difficult. The FTC had defined natural as a food item that has "no artificial ingredients and only minimal processing," according to Fortune.com.

If the FDA does decide to regulate the use of the word, the agency would be looking at $40.7 billion worth of food products that carry the term, the Washington Post reported in 2014.

For now, the FDA has not commented on whether or not seeking public opinion will lead to regulations.

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