November 12, 2015
Surprising nearly everyone, FDA has reopened a long dormant discussion regarding the meaning of the term “natural” in the labeling of food. Today’s Federal Register contains a notice from FDA that the agency has officially opened a docket to receive information and public comment on the use of the term “natural” on food labeling, including foods that are genetically engineered or that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Despite repeated requests in Citizen Petitions and various courts for FDA to weigh in on the interpretation of, and limits on, “natural” claims on food products, very few observers expected FDA to formally reopen the issue at this time. Ready or not, however, FDA has asked for input, and an opportunity has arrived for interested parties to share their perspectives with FDA. This notice presents a rare and unanticipated opportunity to influence an area of food labeling that has been largely closed to new thinking for many years.

Notably, this action creates a space for open discussion of the key issues regarding the meaning of “natural” in the context of food labeling, but it does not promise further agency action. FDA will certainly receive a lot of feedback in response to this request, but it is difficult to envision a circumstance where FDA tackles the issues in a formal regulatory action in the near future.

Commenters have 90 days to submit information in response to FDA’s request. For additional analysis, please click here.