America Weighs in on "Natural"

Back in early November, the FDA decided to take the plunge, involving themselves in a long-standing debate about what constitutes 'natural' foods, whether 'natural' should be used on labels, and how it should be defined.   The agency is now collecting public comments through the Feb 10 deadline.

As the FDA noted, they're wanting feedback "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.  We also note that 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'."

The results so far provide real insight into consumer perceptions and desires around food marketing and labeling.  FoodNavigator breaks it down for us  Consumers are "suspicious of the term 'natural,'" want less processed foods, fewer artificial ingredients, and more "real" food.  The challenge is when these other words, be it artificial, processed, clean, or otherwise have nearly as much confusion around what they mean as natural.

Certainly this is no easy task, and coming up with a workable definition will never appease all parties.  Perhaps one solution is to prohibit use of the word altogether.  If we go down that path, then, FDA may also need to more clearly define or fully restrict other words like 'healthy' or 'clean.'  

This is one of the most interesting food label debates to take place, and I'd imagine this may be the beginning of significant industry involvement (and preemptive announcements) along the way.  TBD, for now!