No Definition of Natural Food Labels
What is Natural? At this point in time there is no real definition of "natural" when it appears on a food label. Just because a product claims to be all natural doesn't mean it is. That's why it's so important to read the package ingredients to know for sure!
The industrial revolution transformed the food supply in the 20th century from dependence on locally grown fruits, vegetables and meats cooked at home to large companies using many new ingredients from many different sources.
The food became processed and by the mid 20th century many new chemicals were added to "aid" processing, enhance flavor, preserve flavor and color, extend shelf life, prevent mold, etc...
As many childhood diseases were eliminated, the medical research focus turned to diseases that emerge in old age.
Cancer began to be thought of as caused by chemicals...
This laid the foundation for the Delaney Clause.
The Delaney Clause (1958) is still in effect. It prohibits the FDA from approving any food additive found to induce cancer in humans or animals.
1960's countercultures – organic movement. Many had strong reservations about using certain chemicals and processing methods in food production.
1970s, FDA issued new regulations defining "natural flavor and color" so that consumers could make more informed decisions about the foods they purchased.
1988, the FDA
informally defined natural to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.
1991, FDA has concerns over evidence that natural was used on a variety of products to mean a variety of things. The FDA reviewed definitions by other agencies, state governments, the food industry and solicited a wide range of comments from industry.
1993, the FDA announced its decision not to define the term natural due to limited resources and other priorities but will retain its 1988 policy noted above.
Conflict and Controversy
2006, the Sugar Association petitioned FDA to define natural by regulation to exclude high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a request that was strenuously opposed by the Corn Products Association. Sara Lee submitted a separate petition asking FDA to collaborate with USDA to establish a single definition of natural by regulation.
The FDA is unlikely to grant either of these petitions because FDA does not review and approve product labeling prior to marketing.
The FDA has little incentive to expend the resources that defining natural by regulation would consume.
This means that there is no realistic possibility that a single definition of natural will be established in the near future.
So, food manufacturers continue to make their own decisions on what is natural.