The Natural Products Association (NPA) responded to recent steps taken by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to define the term “natural” on food labels.
“It’s about time that natural be defined by experts and no Madison Avenue ad executives,” said Dan Fabricant, PhD, executive director and CEO of the NPA. “NPA strongly supports and welcomes this effort by the FDA to define what can be labeled natural, because millions of Americans are buying products they think might be natural but are really not.”
Today 63 percent of people are more conscious of the natural ingredients that go into personal care products than five years ago. As part of its Natural Seal program, NPA has certified more than 800 products and 500 ingredients as truly natural. NPA certified products appear in more than 85,000 stores nationwide, ranging from small independent retailers to some of the largest chains in the country.
“NPA has led the movement to bring clarity to the term and developed a standard for natural including a recognizable Natural Seal for the natural products industry and consumers,” said Fabricant. “The Natural Seal standard was a first in the industry and continues to encourage standard setting in the industry as synthetic chemicals are being replaced with natural ingredient alternatives in their formulations. While it is a starting point for the discussion, we will work with our members and FDA to ensure the term has real meaning.”
“While there are several courts waiting for FDA to define the term, we see the need for the federal government to develop one overarching definition for natural as it is the most litigated claim out there in the natural products industry today,” said Fabricant. “It not only affects foods but also the personal and home care industries. We think it’s ridiculous to market chemically infused products from cosmetics to home care as natural or label any products as natural without a standard behind them, but there’s a lot of that going on in the marketplace. Americans have a right to know what’s in the products they buy, and having an accepted definition of what is and isn’t natural is a strong step forward.”
The FDA requested comments on use of the term “natural” in food labeling. “Because of the changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and in direct response to consumers who have requested that the FDA explore the use of the term “natural,” the agency is asking the public to provide information and comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products,” the FDA said.
This action comes after three citizen petitions were received asking the agency to define the term natural and one citizen petition asking that the term “natural” be prohibited on food labels. The FDA also noted 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.”
Although the FDA has not engaged in rule making to establish a formal definition for the term “natural,” the FDA has 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.
Specifically, the FDA asks for information and public comment on questions such as:
- 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 has begun accepting public comments since November 12, 2015. To electronically submit comments to the docket, visit www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.
When submitting comments to the docket by mail be sure to include docket number FDA-2014-N-1207 on each page of your written comments.