Tell FDA: what is "natural?"

This article was originally published in January 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking your input as a consumer on how it should define “natural” for food labels. Please participate by February 10.

You can submit your thoughts and comments directly to the FDA or by sending your thoughts on the questions, below, to us at and we’ll incorporate your responses into our formal comments.

The FDA says it wants public comments because it received a petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association asking for genetically engineered (GE) foods to be labeled “natural.” The FDA wants responses to the following questions:

  • Do consumers associate, confuse or compare “natural” claims to organic?
  • Do you believe some consumers consider “natural” and organic to be the same, or is “natural” perceived to be better, or not as good as organic?
  • Should certain production practices, such as genetic engineering, mutagenesis, toxic pesticides or animal husbandry practices be a factor in defining “natural?”
  • Should animal products labeled “natural” require the animals are raised on pasture?
  • Should animal products labeled “natural” require the animals are raised without growth promoters for feed efficiency or weight gain, or sub-therapeutic antibiotics?
  • For a multi-ingredient food, what type(s) of ingredients should disqualify it from bearing a “natural” claim?
  • Should traditional processing, such as drying, salting, freezing and fermenting, be factors in defining “natural?”
  • Should pasteurizing, irradiating and hydrolysis (processes that break and change chemical bonds) be allowed in “natural” foods?
  • What can be done to ensure consumers have a consistent and accurate understanding of “natural” labels that is not misleading?

The FDA currently restricts use of “natural” to products without artificial colors and flavors. “Natural” at this time does not mean a food was produced without pesticides or GE ingredients, although surveys show most consumers believe and expect that is precisely what it means.

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