In a January 6, 2014, letter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responded to three federal courts that stayed litigation involving whether food companies deceive consumers by labeling products with genetically modified (GM) ingredients as “natural,” stating that it would not make a deter- mination on the issue to resolve a private litigation-related request. Cox v. Gruma Corp., No. 12-6502 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal.); Barnes v. Campbell Soup Co., No. 12-5185 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal.); In re General Mills, Inc. Kix Cereal Litig., No. 12-0249 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.N.J.).

Describing the complexities of determining what “natural” means in both a broad and narrow context and the variety of stakeholder interests involved, FDA stated that if it “were inclined to revoke, amend, or add to [current] policy, we would likely embark on a public process” and would have to involve other agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because the agency is devoting significant resources to Food Safety Modernization Act rulemaking under “statutory and/or court-ordered deadlines,” FDA said it must prioritize  its actions given “limited resources.” FDA’s current policy on the use of the  term “natural” on food labels is that it means “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 the food.”