Judges Ask FDA: What is “Natural”?

August 26, 2010

By Ricardo Carvajal

In several cases that challenge food marketers’ use of the term “natural” in labeling and advertising, the presiding judges have recently opted to suspend proceedings and seek an administrative determination from FDA as to whether high fructose corn syrup ("HFCS") qualifies as a “natural” ingredient (see, e.g., Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., D.N.J., No. 07-3018(MLC)).  One case also raises the same question with respect to citric acid (Ries v. Hornell Brewing Co, Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 10-1139 (JF)). 

It is too soon to know whether FDA plans to respond to these requests, but any response by FDA that sheds additional light on its interpretation of “natural” is bound to be closely parsed by industry.  Two years ago, staff at FDA/CFSAN set off a small firestorm when they stated in response to a request from the trade press that foods containing HFCS cannot properly be labeled as “natural.”  Subsequently, the agency refined its position and stated that it might be appropriate to label foods containing HFCS as “natural,” depending on how HFCS is produced – including whether the acids used in the production of HFCS fit within the agency’s policy on “natural.”  For more insight on the controversy over "natural" and other "green" claims, see here.

Categories: Foods