FDA Seeks All Natural Comments

Green apple with stethoscope

**Are we a step closer to solving the All Natural problem?**

There are problems faced by “All Natural” or “100% Natural” defendants.  See prior post. A specific problem for defendants is the inability to rely on any definitive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance.  The FDA’s position has been clear – it “has not promulgated a formal definition of the term ‘natural’ with respect to foods.”  See Letter Leslie Kux, Assistant Commissioner for Policy, Food and Drug Administration, to the United States District Court, Northern District of California, dated January 7, 2014.  To date the FDA has created only an “informal policy statement.” Janney v. Mills, 944 F. Supp. 2d 806, 812 (N.D. Cal. 2013) (citing 58 Fed. Reg. 2302–01).  If there was federal regulation – defendants would have clarity in their positions – and state law claim would likely be pre-empted, see e.g., Lam v. General Mills, Inc., 859 F.Supp.2d 1097, 1102–03 (N.D.Cal.2012). In the absence of regulation, the question of what “natural” means and whether a product’s labeling violates the law is currently governed by an unwieldy “reasonable consumer standard”.  Williams v. Gerber Prods. Co., 552 F.3d 934, 938 (9th Cir.2008) citing Freeman v. Time, Inc., 68 F.3d 285, 289 (9th Cir.1995)). This lack of objective standards is one of the reasons why the litigation has been able to take hold – at the same time as “natural” labeled food has boomed (the Washington Post reports that nearly $40.7 billion worth of food items in the U.S. has some labeling of this type). Fortunatley, the FDA has changed tack – responding, inter alia, to requests from Federal Courts and a citizen petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association it has published a Federal Register notice asking for information and comments on the use of the term “natural” in food labeling. Specifically, the FDA asks for 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.  Notably, the FDA notes that it may be looking to expand its policy on natural foods to include – not only the synthetic/artificial divide, but also questions of whether pesticide free and manufacturing processes should be part of the equation.  The FDA is accepting public comments beginning on November 12, 2015 and finishing February 10, 2016.  Comments may be submitted electronically (under FDA-2014-N-1207).

 

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