Food & Beverage Perspectives
FDA Extends Comment Period for Use of ‘Natural’ on Food Labels

FDA Extends Comment Period for Use of Natural on Food Labels

<p>FDA is extending the comment period for the use of the term &#8220;natural" on the labeling of food products, including foods that are genetically engineered or contain ingredients produced through the use of genetic engineering. The new deadline for comments is May 10, 2016.</p>

FDA is extending the comment period for the use of the term “natural" on the labeling of food products, including foods that are genetically engineered or contain ingredients produced through the use of genetic engineering. The new deadline for comments is May 10, 2016.

Because of the changing landscape of food ingredients and production, and in direct response to consumers who have requested FDA explore the use of the term “natural," the agency last year asked the public to provide information and comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products.

According to FDA, this action is in response, in part, to three citizen petitions asking that the agency define “natural" for use in food labeling and one citizen petition asking that the agency prohibit the term on food labels.

Despite growing controversy regarding “natural" claims, FDA has yet to establish a formal definition for the term. Per its request, the agency is seeking information and public comment on questions such as: whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural"; how the agency should define “natural"; and how the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels. FDA noted that some federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may be labeled as “natural."

Although FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term “natural," it does have a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural" in human food labeling. 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. FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural" should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

Today, FDA also issued a final rule banning three chemicals it had previously cleared for use in food packaging, such as pizza boxes, because of the hazards the chemicals could pose to public health. FDA banned three specific perfluoroalkyl ethyl containing food-contact substances (FCSs) as oil and water repellants for paper and paperboard for use in contact with aqueous and fatty foods because new data are available as to the toxicity of substances structurally similar to these compounds that demonstrate there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm from the food-contact use of these FCSs.

The action is in response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Food Safety, the Breast Cancer Fund, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Water Action, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children’s Environmental Health Network, Environmental Working Group, and Improving Kids’ Environment proposing the food additive regulations be amended to no longer authorize the use of seven listed synthetic flavoring food additives and to establish zero tolerances for the additives.

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