Posted January 10, 2014
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently decline requested by three federal judges to determine whether the term “natural” includes genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, according to an article by Food Navigator USA available here.
Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, of the Northern District of California, first asked FDA to make the determination in a deceptive marketing lawsuit involving “all-natural” claims on Mission tortilla chips, Cox v. Gruma Corp.  Judge Jeffrey S. White, also of the Northern District of California, in Barnes v. Campbell Soup, followed Rogers’ lead, staying the lawsuit over natural claims on soup for six months.  In addition, Judge Kevin McNulty, of the Northern District of New Jersey, “administratively terminated” the General Mills cereal litigation pending FDA’s response.
On January 6, 2014, FDA responded in a letter, available here.  In the letter, FDA declined to define the term “natural” or change its stated policy that “natural” on food labels means that “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”
The letter continued, “If FDA were inclined to revoke, amend, or add to this policy, we would likely embark on a public process, such as issuing a regulation or formal guidance, in order to determine whether to make such a change; we would not do so in the context of litigation between private parties.”
FDA also mentioned that food public health and safety matters are “largely occupying the limited resources that FDA has to address food matters” and because “FDA operates in a world of limited resources, [it] necessarily must prioritize which issues to address.”
Meanwhile, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) told FDA it plans to file a petition asking for a rule that would allow GE foods to be labeled as “natural,” according to a Politico article available here. The letter from GMA is available here.


For more information on food labeling, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.