On Nov. 12, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a request for information and comments about the use of the term “natural.” Food and beverage companies have been using the term with few restrictions—currently, the FDA does not restrict use of the term “natural” except for added color, synthetic substances, and flavors—but that could change. Given how often food and beverage companies use the term, it is in their best interest to pay attention to and comment on the FDA’s request.

The FDA hopes to gather information and comments to help determine how it should proceed on this issue. In particular, the FDA seeks responses to a series of questions, including:

  • Should [the FDA] define, through rulemaking, the term “natural”? Why or why not?
  • Should [the FDA] prohibit the term “natural” in food labeling? Why or why not?
  • If [the FDA] define[s] the term “natural,” what types of food should be allowed to bear the term “natural”?
  • Should manufacturing processes be considered in determining when a food can bear the term “natural”? For example, should food manufacturing processes, such as drying, salting, marinating, curing, freezing, canning, fermenting, pasteurizing, irradiating, or hydrolysis, be a factor in defining “natural”?

The answers to these and other questions posed by the FDA will impact whether food and beverage companies can continue to use the term at all, and if so, under what circumstances the term can be used. The FDA is focusing its inquiry not only on the types of ingredients that can be used but also on the methods of production (e.g., can pesticides be used on products labeled “natural”? Can “natural” products contain genetically modified organisms?)

Food companies, restaurants, and others interested in the issue should submit comments to the FDA. The comment period closes Feb. 10, 2016. Find out more about the request for information and how to submit comments here.