Friday, June 3, 2016

What Is an "All-Natural" Food Product?

What does the term "all natural" mean to you? Some people favor foods with a "natural" or "all-natural" label because they think it means that they are better for you. It's a feel-good term that influences consumers, for sure. But legally it means absolutely nothing.

More than a hundred class-action lawsuits have been filed against food manufacturers who have used the terms "natural" or "all-natural" on foods containing all sorts of things, including pesticides, hormones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and artificial ingredients. All of the lawsuits have failed in court. The basic problem is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency charged with regulating our food industry, has never adequately defined the terms. And without a definition, judges have been reluctant to rule against food manufacturers who use the terms lightly.

That may change soon. For two years the FDA has been receiving comments from the public on what they think "natural" means. The agency is now reviewing the 7,600 comments it received and may issue a final definition of the term later this year. One possible definition might be "foods not made by humans and subjected to little or no processing", such as ground nuts, whole grain flours, and foods processed by traditional techniques such as roasting, drying, fermenting, and smoking.

Once the FDA has officially defined "natural", the makers of food products will either have to comply with the new definition or face lawsuits that they may actually lose.

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