FDA invites comments on "natural" food labeling

November 10, 2015

FDA/Food, Beverage & Agriculture Alert

Author(s): Tracey B. Scarpello, Vivian M. Quinn

In response to several citizen petitions requesting that the FDA define the term “natural” for use on food labels, the agency is seeking public comment on use of the term. This is a surprising turnaround, as the FDA declined several requests by federal judges handling “all natural” litigation over the past year to address the issue.

In the update published on the agency’s website today, the FDA noted that, while it has a “longstanding policy concerning the use of ‘natural’ in human food labeling,” this policy was not intended to address food production, processing or manufacturing methods, such as the use of pesticides, pasteurization or irradiation. The FDA’s prior policy also did not address whether “natural” should describe any nutritional or health benefit—claims that are at the heart of many ongoing lawsuits.

Specifically, the FDA seeks comments on:

  • 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 November 12, 2015. Comments can be submitted electronically by visiting http://www.regulations.gov and typing FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box. Given the number of lawsuits that have been filed over use of the term “natural” on food labels, we expect the FDA will receive numerous comments from stakeholders, including consumers, manufacturers, trade associations and others. Those who are following these developments will want to stay tuned.

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