IDFA Urges USDA to Avoid Rigid Definition of "Natural" Foods
In comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) earlier this month, IDFA urges the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to continue to review food labels using the term "natural" on a case-by-case basis and avoid rulemaking that would apply a rigid definition of the term. IDFA also encourages FSIS to work closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that both entities follow a consistent federal approach on the issue.
Last year, Hormel Foods asked FSIS to establish a set definition of "conditions under which the claim natural could be used" on food labels. FSIS agreed to a review and issued the request for comments.
Although food safety for dairy products is primarily regulated by FDA, some ingredients, such as the cheese in pepperoni pizzas or cheeseburgers, are regulated by FSIS.
In its comments, IDFA explains that "defining the term 'natural' in regulation is not feasible, because its meaning depends upon the context in which it is being used." The comments note that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), USDA and FDA reached the same conclusion during a comprehensive joint review over 20 years ago, and IDFA believes the conclusion holds true today.
The comments also explain that the term natural, as used to differentiate between natural cheese and processed cheese, is readily understood by consumers and requires no further clarification.
"Through simple and consistent labeling, cheese makers have always been able to quickly and clearly indicate to consumers which product is natural and which product is processed," the comments state. "This type of product characterization has been used for decades, and consumers know that each connotes different product characteristics, such as the melting characteristics of processed cheese, or the flavor characteristics of a natural cheese."
IDFA asks FSIS to consult with FDA during the review process to ensure a consistent approach to labeling for all food products.
"FSIS ought to be especially careful that it does not, inadvertently, set a precedent for products outside its regulatory domain," the comments state.
To read the full comments, click here. For more information, contact Clay Hough, IDFA senior vice president, at email@example.com or 202-220-3516.
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Posted March 12, 2007