Defining 'Natural' Foods: The Search for a 'Natural' Law
38 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2014 Last revised: 31 May 2014
Date Written: March 3, 2014
Because the FDA has refused to codify a uniform or enforceable definition of “natural” food, each food manufacturer determines its own standard for the term. Unlike the certified organic label, no government agency, certification group, or other independent entity ensures that “natural” claims have merit. Generally, the term “natural” means that a food has been minimally processed, contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives, is healthy and wholesome. However, food producers are not prohibited by law from using pesticides, genetically modified crops, fumigants, solvents, and toxic processing aids. Consumers and food producers are both disadvantaged by the inconsistent meanings and uses of the term. Recent surveys demonstrate that while consumers demand “natural” products, they are confused regarding the term’s meaning. A proliferation of consumer protection lawsuits against food producers has flooded the courts over the past two years. Food producers truly committed to producing “natural” products are competing with manufacturers who loosely interpret the term, produce and sell cheaper, inferior, and not-so-“natural” products. In light of the FDA’s reluctance to codify a “natural” definition, this Article will evaluate the recent decisions in the “natural” lawsuits and the attempts by courts, legislatures, the food industry, and retailers to establish a “natural” standard. The Article concludes that the search for an enforceable and comprehensive “natural” standard is futile. It predicts that the term “natural” has proven to be so confusing to consumers that the significance of the term has likely been diluted. Furthermore, because the claim has been so legally troublesome for food manufacturers, use of “natural” on food labels will surely be on the decline.
Keywords: food labeling, natural food, food law, FDA, Food and Drug Administration, consumer protection
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