The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now agreed to extend the comment period for food industry groups to give their opinion on the use of the word “natural.” They are currently in discussions about whether a change is needed or not in terms of what the word “natural” denotes on labels.
Back in November, the debate began when the FDA originally asked for comments on the issue. They asked the public to weigh in on whether they should define and regulate what natural means on products.
However, the agency said it did not plan to address food production such as pesticides, food processing, thermal technologies, irradiation, or pasteurization. Pasteurization is the processing used in milk and its products by which the milk is heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, followed by rapidly cooling it and storing it in refrigerated containers below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Previously, the FDA defined “natural” to mean anything that has not had artificial or synthetic ingredients included or anything else that would not be expected in the product. They admit, however, that they fail to account for whether the term “natural” should be used to describe any health benefits or nutrition.
After the November comments, public opinions were due by Feb. 10, but they have since been extended after the Natural Products Association (NPA) asked for more time to gather input. The FDA has posed three questions: should they define the term, how should they define it if so, and how should they determine its appropriate use on labels? The deadline for comments is now May 10.
The FDA has outlined the issue as well:
“Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term ‘natural,’ we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of ‘natural’ in human food labeling,” the said in a statement. “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.”