JANUARY 17, 2008—Citing limited resources and a lack of consumer interest, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that it will not attempt to define “natural.”
The U.S. Sugar Association and food manufacturer Sara Lee petitioned the FDA to define the word “natural” as it relates to food.
“The bottom line is we’d have to have consumer research that shows overwhelmingly that people are being misled,” an FDA spokesperson told FoodNavigator USA. “Even if people interpret it in different ways, it doesn’t mean there is confusion out there. If there was, then we would definitely raise it as a priority.”
A bittersweet decision, said the Sugar Association. “There are several things that are of concern to us,” President and CEO Andy Briscoe told Functional Ingredients Magazine. “First is the claim that it is not a consumer issue; second is the fact the agency says consumer research is needed before it can make a ruling; and finally is the agency’s contradictory stance on the issue of natural over the years.”
A Mintel market survey conducted in 2007 found that “all natural” is the second most frequent claim on food labels.
With the recent consumer fervor for organic and natural products, it’s important to create standards for those claims to keep consumers from being misled, Sara Lee and the Sugar Association argued.
“We hope that the FDA will reconsider defining the term ‘natural’ as a priority. This is the appropriate time to clearly define ‘natural’ and protect consumers from misleading claims,” Briscoe said. “After all, the FDA has established regulatory guidelines for the term ‘healthy,’ why can’t the same be done for ‘natural’?”