The Sugar Association is deeply disappointed with FDA's statement to Food Navigator, a daily online news service available as a free-access Web site and provides daily and weekly newsletters to subscribers, Jan. 4 that the Agency has no immediate plans to define the term "natural."

"There are several things in this article that are of concern to us regarding their decision not to define natural at this time," stated Sugar Association President and CEO, Andy Briscoe. "First is the claim that it is not a consumer issue; second is the fact the Agency says consumer research is needed before it can make a ruling; and finally is the Agency's contradictory stance on the issue of natural over the years."

Current market trends strongly contradict FDA's statement to Food Navigator, "we're not sure how high of an issue it is for consumers." Natural and organic products are the fastest growing categories in food manufacturing. The National Marketing Institute reported in 2004, that 63% of consumers have a preference for natural foods and beverages. In 2007 Mintel reported "All Natural" was the second most frequent claim made on food products launched in the U.S., appearing on 2,023 products and 405 beverages. This is also evidenced by the growing number of businesses catering to consumers wishing to purchase natural food products with sales for natural foods and health and wellness products reaching a reported $68 billion, up 8.5% from 2003 according to University of Minnesota College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

In the Navigator article, FDA stated, "The bottom line is we'd have to have consumer research that shows overwhelmingly that people are being misled." The Sugar Association contends that it is unrealistic to rely on consumer knowledge of food technology to evaluate whether or not they are being misled, especially with the plethora of new ingredients entering today's food supply. We strongly encourage FDA, as the governing agency for food labeling, to establish appropriate regulations for making a "natural" claim on food packaging.

A 2006 survey conducted by Harris Interactive found consumers believe FDA should provide an official definition for making a "natural" claim. In a petition submitted to FDA, asking them to define the term "natural," the Sugar Association showed that 83% of the 1000 people surveyed said that the government should provide regulations to food manufacturers when making "natural" claims.

In the 1993 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act final rule, FDA stated it "believed that if the term 'natural' were adequately defined, the ambiguity in the use of this term, which has resulted in misleading claims, could be abated."

"We hope that FDA will reconsider defining the term 'natural' as a priority. This is the appropriate time to clearly define 'natural' and protect consumers from misleading claims," stated Mr. Briscoe. "After all, FDA has established regulatory guidelines for the term 'healthy,' why can't the same be done for 'natural?'"