What is ‘natural’? Updated Food Labeling Modernization Act wades into one of the most contentious issues in food marketing


The 35-page bill​ directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a single, standard front-of-package nutrition labeling system “that clearly distinguishes between products of greater or lesser nutritional value.”

This would involve warning symbols for products high in saturated or trans fats, sodium, added sugars, “and any other nutrients the consumption of which should be limited or discouraged; and a stop-light, points, star, or other commonly recognized signaling system to scale or rank foods according to their overall health value.”

It also wades into the thorny issue of ‘natural,’ one of the most contentious words in food marketing​, which the FDA started to probe in late 2015​ with a request for comments (generating thousands of submissions), but has subsequently failed to pin down.

The bill does not attempt to come up with a detailed definition, but instructs the HHS Secretary to “include regulations relating to use of the term ‘natural’ on the labeling of food… and requiring that any such use includes a prominent disclosure explaining what the term ‘natural’ does and does not mean in terms of ingredients and manufacturing processes.”

It also instructs the Secretary to “conduct consumer surveys and studies and issue a timely call for relevant public submissions regarding relevant consumer research including with respect to consumer understanding of the term ’natural’ in relation to the term ‘organic.'”

Tackling fairy dust sprinkling of nutrients

In a bid to prevent companies from using trivial quantities of whole grains, fruits and vegetables or other healthy ingredients and then shouting about their presence on pack, the bill also requires products bearing claims about such ingredients to list the amount per serving or percentages on pack.  



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