Food and Drink International - Winter 2016 Volume 1 - 23

Food Labeling

L

Long-term trends in consumer preference, industry capacity,
advocates' energy and agency enthusiasm have combined to
make this a remarkable year in producing significant developments in food labeling policy and law. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration's nutrition facts labeling rule - embodying revisions to traditional nutritional emphases and updated graphics
- arrived at the end of May.
Vermont's rule on GMO labeling, enacted in 2014, survived significant
legal challenges, provoked a storm
of activity and, ultimately, spurred
federal legislation vesting national GE labeling authority in the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. At least
four citizen petitions by the Sugar Association in 2006, Sara Lee in 2007,
Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and Consumers Union in
2014 urged the FDA to take action
defining or prohibiting use of the term
"natural" on food labels. The FDA,
finally taking a preliminary step in
that direction, requested the public
to comment on the use of "natural" in
food labeling. The comment period
closed in May this year.

Why is this important?
Naturally, it's about food labeling and
its underlying philosophy. Research
suggests that most consumers make
purchasing decisions in the grocery
store aisles within three to five seconds. On the service side, the National Restaurant Association (NRA)
states that the term "natural" has increased in menu item names and descriptions by over 20 percent in the
last five years and that consumer's
associate "natural" with trustworthiness, wholesomeness and health.
So, aside from the obvious commercial effects, including printing and
design costs, recalibrating marketing
campaigns and reformulating prod-

ucts, the legal and policy openings
identified above create battle spaces
in which to shape consumers' buying
behaviors. It's worth discussing some
of these positions.
The FDA asked the public (businesses, trade organizations, consumer groups and citizens) to address
two big policy questions regarding
"natural" labeling: "(1) Should FDA
define, through rulemaking, the term
'natural?' and (2) Should FDA prohibit the term "natural" in food labeling?" These questions provoke subsidiary questions.
For example, can only unprocessed
agricultural commodities or single ingredient products be natural?
What ingredients would disqualify a
multi-ingredient food from being natural? Can manufacturing (e.g., chemical processing aids) or production
techniques (e.g., genetic engineering,
hybridization) downgrade a "natural"
product? Should there be a health
component in the definition of "natural" and, if not, do consumers understand this?

Consumer vs. Industry
GMA takes the position that the origin of an ingredient or food should be
the most important determinant (processing techniques are secondary) of
whether it is "natural" and whether
a food using it may be labeled "natural". (GMA letter to FDA, May 10,
2016.) However, there are exceptions.

GMA believes that chemical (typically synthetic) additives remaining
post-processing in foods at "insignificant" levels without exerting any
effects on the food should not prevent that food from being described
as "natural." Separately, GMA also
advocates that fortifying foods with
synthetic nutrients (e.g., a synthetic
vitamin) should not preclude "natural" labeling. The NRA suggests that
raw agricultural commodities and
"minimally processed foods" should
be considered "natural."
If processing does not change a
food's ingredients' chemical composition, the food is natural. (NRA
letter to FDA, May 10, 2016.) Like
GMA, NRA also believes that the addition of synthetic nutrients (such as
vitamins) should not preclude a food
from being labeled as "natural."
Finally, the American Farm Bureau
Federation and the Biotechnology
Organization want GMOs to be allowed in natural products.
On the other hand, Consumers
Union, Consumer Federation of
America, Friends of the Earth and
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable
Future, among many others, all want
the term "natural" to be prohibited
from food labeling. They believe
"natural" is inherently misleading
given consumers' understanding of
the term; conversely, if "natural" is
used, the groups argue that no food
should be so labeled which cannot
also be USDA certified organic. And
further illustrating the idea that every
constituency ultimately pursues idiosyncratic policy interests, while the
Organic Trade Association agrees
that the term "natural" should be prohibited and that, if used, "natural"
products should not contain GMOs
or artificial, or synthetic substances,
the association strongly objects to

food & drink international * winter 2016 volume 1 * www.fooddrink-magazine.com

23


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Food and Drink International - Winter 2016 Volume 1

Contents
Food and Drink International - Winter 2016 Volume 1 - Cover1
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Food and Drink International - Winter 2016 Volume 1 - 1
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