This is Your Chance to be Heard

Ever since I got interested in the story behind what we eat (I’m talking Clinton administration here) there has been one word that gets food scientists, nutrition experts, and food processors worked up more than any other. That word is “natural”.

Why all the fuss and frustration? The short answer is that the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has not approved a definition for the word “natural” on food labels. Essentially, it is meaningless marketing gibberish.

But now, I mean RIGHT NOW, they want to delineate what natural will mean on food labels in the United States. That’s good news. What’s better news is that, until February 10, 2016, you can tell the USFDA what you think “natural” food should mean.

Click here to access the USFDA site, read a detailed background of the three-part question, and offer your own comment.

I hope that this upcoming regulation makes things simpler when it comes to decoding food labels. Realistically, I don’t know if that is possible. This is a complex issue. Just take a glance at the three sub-issues the USFDA is considering. (I copied the bullet points in bold right from the link above)

  • Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”

Maybe the term is too ambiguous to define. Perhaps the word natural should simply be prohibited from food labels.

  • If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and

Yes, that is the question, especially since the USFDA is opening up growing and processing methods to scrutiny. An apple is natural, but what about applesauce if there is no added sugar? How about applesauce with added cane sugar, but a little ascorbic acid to keep it from darkening? Is heirloom variety sweet corn from a conventional farm more, less, or equally natural as a GMO corn variety raised without chemical pesticides and fertilizers? Just thinking about meat and dairy makes my brain hurt- cheese made only from milk, salt, and cultures but the milk is from cows that may have been given antibiotics and growth hormones versus cheese with some additives but milk from a certified organic dairy.

  • How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels

Who is on the hook for enforcing the definition when it is determined? Will food manufactures have to document what they market and where is comes from and submit the information to the USFDA? Will the USFDA audit all or some of these claims? How often? Will they push this responsibility onto the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)?

This is an exciting time for DIYeters. You read food labels and you eat food. Therefore, this issue affects you. And you should absolutely form and express an opinion on this issue. Yes, it’s a complicated question; I’m still trying to work out what my answer will be. Let’s talk it out in the comments section!