AHPA urges FDA to define 'natural' to promote clarity and consistency

The American Herbal Products Association wants the FDA to define "natural" and similar terms to "ensure that customers are not misled" by manufacturers who use the term incorrectly.

The American Herbal Products Association is encouraging the FDA to define "natural" and similar terms, such as "100 percent natural" and "made with natural [named ingredient]," for food labels and other regulated products. 

"Consumers seek such a designation on foods and other products and it is important to some consumers' purchasing and consumption decisions," said AHPA President Michael McGuffin. "Creating a regulatory definition of natural and related terms for product labels will help ensure that consumers are not misled by inconsistent or inaccurate uses of this term."

The Food and Drug Administration sought public comment from Dec. 28 through May 10 on whether the agency should define, through rulemaking, the term "natural" for the labeling of food products. The agency received more than 4,800 comments.

In its comments, the AHPA suggested that "natural" be allowed on labeling of raw agricultural products as well as on multi-ingredient and processed foods. However, it urged the FDA to prohibit use of "natural" on labeling of raw agricultural commodities from crops produced with genetic engineering.

Those ingredients derived from crops resulting from traditional hybridization between closely related taxa should be included in the definition of "natural," the association said.

The association suggested the agency allow the "natural" label on animal foods, cosmetics and botanical supplements, as well.

The association's comments included ideas about how "natural" should be defined and how FDA should enforce any rule.

"Natural processed food must be derived only from natural ingredients and must be processed in a manner that retains the natural quality of the starting ingredients," McGuffin said. "Any food-manufacturing process that is a traditional food-preparation process should be recognized as maintaining the natural quality of the ingredients used to make a multi-ingredient or traditionally processed food."

The FDA and the USDA should cooperate to ensure the consistent use of "natural" in the labeling of all foods, regardless of agency jurisdiction, the AHPA suggested. Also, the association recommended that current regulatory definitions of "natural flavor and natural flavoring" be retained.

"FDA should create a regulatory definition of natural that is reasonably consistent with consumers' understanding of the term, as shown through market research," McGuffin said.

The AHPA's comments are similar to those of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which also supported a regulatory definition of "natural."

Conversely, the Organic & Natural Health Association in February announced that "natural" should not be included on product labels, but only in marketing and promotional materials. It appears that the Organic & Natural Health Association did not submit comments to the FDA.

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