The FDA (Food & Drug Administration) surprised everyone this week by announcing that they are now taking comments on the use of the term "natural" on food labeling. It's about time.
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) who is tasked with the job of monitoring false advertising has been proven so ineffectual that people began reaching out directly to the courts years ago. Now according to the FDA they have been asked to weigh in by judges to provide guidelines for outstanding cases.
So what does natural mean? In 1993, the FDA issued non-binding guidance saying "natural means 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 in that food."
But that doesn't take into consideration GMO's and use of pesticides, nor processing methods such as thermal technologies, pasteurization or irradiation.
Since Mintel reported last year that two-thirds of US adults think foods labeled "natural" are healthy, and people are willing to pay more for foods perceived as healthy, it's an important marketing tool.
The Food Labeling Modernization Act, currently in committee, would prohibit the use of the word natural for any food that includes a synthesized ingredient. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association has stated its intention to push the FDA to define natural as inclusive of GMO ingredients. Given that most staple crops in the US (i.e. corn, soybeans and beet sugar) are grown from GM seed, that ship may have already sailed. (Lukovitz, 2015)
So what do you think? Are you buying foods labeled as "natural?" And paying more for them? What does the term mean to you? What should it mean? Where does GMO fit in?
Lukovitz, K. (2015, November 11) Surprise: FDA To Review Use Of 'Natural' Food Claim. mediapost.com. Retrieved November 12, 2015, from