The FDA need consumer help to define Natural Foods. FoodFacts.com really sat down and thought about this. We’ve decided that the government turning to the public for help defining natural foods is a good thing. That’s because it’s our opinion that they have managed to get more than a few things wrong in the world of food when left to their own devises. We’re hopeful that the public will weigh in on this with the same kind of gusto we’ve seen challenge the food industry for making untruthful claims.
The government, or more specifically, The Food and Drug Administration is seeking your input to answer a question: How should the agency define “natural” on food labels?
Disagreement over what “all natural” or “100 percent natural” means has spawned dozens of lawsuits. Consumers have challenged the naturalness of all kinds of food products.
For instance, can a product that contains high fructose corn syrup be labeled as natural? What about products that contain genetically modified ingredients?
The FDA has received three citizen petitions asking for clarification. And, beginning Thursday, the agency will ask us — the public — to weigh in. Comments can be submitted electronically.
Developing a comprehensive, legal definition for this buzzword may be tough. After all, saying something is natural is a little bit like saying something is beautiful. The judgment is in the eye of the beholder.
Ivan Wasserman, a lawyer with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Philips who tracks this issue was asked some questions.
The Food and Drug Administration is asking people to weigh in on a definition for the term “natural” on food labels. Will this process lead to a new rule — a codified, legal definition?
By requesting comments, the FDA is obligated to review them. So, [the agency] has certainly taken on a big project in simply announcing this. But it has not announced that it’s creating a new rule or definition.
The FDA says it has had a long-standing policy on this issue and has “considered the term ‘natural’ to mean … nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source).” So why is there still confusion over what counts as “natural”?
This policy does not address a lot of these newer issues [such as GMO ingredients, or newer ways of processing foods].
If the FDA were to create a more strict, more comprehensive definition, it would give manufacturers a lot more guidance on whether or not they could use the term “natural” on their food products.
There have been a lot of class-action lawsuits brought against companies that have labeled their products as “natural.” What are some of the most interesting examples?
Some of the original cases were brought against companies that included high fructose corn syrup in their products — which is obviously an ingredient that comes from corn, but has been processed. And there have been lawsuits against companies for including genetically modified ingredients in their products.
There are a lot of sides to this argument. And I think at the end of this process if the FDA does create a definition for “natural,” it’s going to be hard to satisfy everyone.
Food companies may also like the looser language since it gives them more wiggle room to use the term “natural.” Can you think of any precedents here — in food law — of creating stricter standards for food labels?
Yes: the organic label. If you see the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] organic seal on a food product, that has a very strict program [and set of rules] on what foods can bear that seal. So there is some precedent. But the term “natural” is a little more vague.
Do you agree that natural is a vague term?
We’ve always had an issue with the government definition for the ingredient “Natural Flavor.” By government definition it refers to a combination of ingredients that are derived from natural sources. There are some problems with that – in the first place that one ingredient, “Natural Flavor” is actually more than one ingredient. You’ll just never know which ingredients that manufacturer used to create the single “Natural Flavor.” You’ll also never know if you’re allergic to any of them … or if the manufacturer chemically processed a substance that was derived from natural sources. So there’s a big gray area concerning whether or not those ingredients are really natural. They may have started out that way, but you have no way of knowing exactly how it was processed to become part of that “Natural Flavor.”
We actually find the government definition of “Natural Flavor” to be vague … not necessarily the word natural. In fact, we’re pretty sure we could come up with a definition – and we’re pretty sure concerned consumers can as well.
Let’s all give the FDA our very specific ideas! We’re the people they need to hear from on this very important issue. So visit this link: http://www.fda.gov/Food/NewsEvents/ConstituentUpdates/ucm471919.htm and follow the instructions. Let’s tell them that GMO ingredients aren’t natural … that high fructose corn syrup isn’t natural … that natural flavor needs a more sensible definition – and the other actual facts surrounding this issue that in truth really aren’t vague at all!