Natural Cheetos? That’s right. The line has since been changed to “Simply” from “Simply Natural,” but the case illustrates why consumers have been pressing the FDA to reexamine the “natural” label. (Photo: Frito-Lay)
When it comes to the labels on your meat, snacks, and other packaged foods, the word “natural” probably doesn’t mean what you think it means. The term is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, despite years of debate, and surveys show that most consumers have mistaken beliefs about what the “natural” label signifies.
But that may be changing in the near future. Today the FDA announced that it is seeking comments from the public regarding the use of the “natural” label on food products.
Specifically, the FDA is looking for feedback on three major questions: whether it is appropriate for the agency to define the term “natural,” how to define the word if so, and how the FDA should determine whether or not “natural” is used appropriately.
The move comes in response to consumer petitions that have asked the FDA to clarify the meaning of the term on food labels.
Since 1993 the FDA has used an informal policy stating that the agency has “not objected to the use of the term” as long as a food “does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
Consumers, however, are by and large unaware of the FDA’s policy. In fact, most shoppers misunderstand the meaning of the “natural” label. In a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults last year, two-thirds of people believed that “natural” implied that the food contains no genetically modified organisms, pesticides, or artificial ingredients.
In addition, more than half of survey respondents believed that the “natural” label on meat indicated that the animals’ feed did not contain growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs.
The FDA is accepting comments online or by mail from now through Feb. 10, 2016.
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