The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comments on whether the agency should set a definition for the term “natural” on food labels. The comment period opened Nov. 12 and runs through Feb. 10, 2016.

FDA received three citizen petitions asking the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling, and one petition asking the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. 

The absence of a federal regulation for “natural” or “all natural” claims has resulted in a large number of class-action lawsuits against food companies, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). Those lawsuits allege consumers are misled by “all-natural claims” on products containing specific ingredients derived synthetically or from biotechnology.

 Currently, there is no FDA regulation that defines “natural” for labeling purposes. FDA has a longstanding policy prohibiting products from being labeled as “natural” if they contain synthetic ingredients, artificial flavors or added color that a consumer would not normally expect in a product.

That policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor does it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization or irradiation, according to the FDA announcement. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit. 

The policy also does not address the use of the term “natural” to address statements regarding natural cheese, IDFA noted.

Specifically, the FDA is seeking information and public comment on questions such as:

  • Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”
  • If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and
  • How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

How to comment

To comment electronically, go to docket folder FDA-2014-N-1207 on

For submissions by mail, use the following address.

Division of Dockets Management
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 20852

Be sure to include docket number FDA-2014-N-1207 on each page of your written comments.