Wednesday, August 13, 2008 by: David Gutierrez
The FDA has no intention to define the term “natural” for food products any time in the near future, saying that it has other priorities.
In 2007, the agency received two petitions for a clear definition of the term in order to avoid consumer confusion. One petition came from the Sugar Association, which wants FDA backing for claiming that sugar is a natural sweetener, while the second came from baked goods manufacturer Sara Lee. According to Sara Lee, a formal definition is needed to provide consistency for manufacturers and consumers.
This lack of consistency has led to a wide range of products being claimed as “natural,” claims that have even sparked some lawsuits.
While the FDA has not responded to either petition yet, Geraldine June of the FDA Food Labeling and Standards department, says that the agency has not seen enough evidence that consumers are being misled by “natural” labels for the issue to become a priority. June said that the FDA has a limited budget and must prioritize issues that have an impact on health and safety, including health and nutrient claims, allergen declarations and irradiation labeling.
“Even if people interpret [“natural”] in different ways, it doesn’t mean there is confusion out there,” June said. “If there was, then we would definitely raise it as a priority”.
In 1993, the FDA said that it would consider defining the term, “because of the widespread use of this term, and the evidence that consumers regard many uses of this term as noninformative.” At that time, the agency also cited insufficient resource as a reason for the lack of a definition.
FDA rules currently allow the term “natural” to be used on food products as long as such use “is truthful and not misleading.” The term natural may not be used on any food product that contains artificial colors or flavors or “synthetic substances.” Specific ingredients are also prohibited from being labeled “natural,” except for “natural flavors.”