The term natural, which lacks a formal definition when applied to food, was thrust into the spotlight yesterday.
An article on Food Navigator USA, a website for the food and beverage industry, said that the FDA suggested products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) should not be labeled as natural. HFCS is a cheaply produced sweetener and preservative made from cornstarch, and its found in many of the processed foods we eat, such as hamburger buns, soda, salad dressing and ketchup - items that are often high in calories but low in nutritional value.
According to the website, the comments came from the FDA's Geraldine June, supervisor of the Product Evaluation and Labeling team at FDA's Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, in response to an inquiry.
June is quoted: "The use of synthetic fixing agents in the enzyme preparation, which is then used to produce HFCS, would not be consistent with our ( ) policy regarding the use of the term 'natural'. Consequently, we would object to the use of the term 'natural' on a product containing HFCS."
The term natural does not have a formal definition, but, according to the Food Marketing Institute, the label is applied broadly to foods that are minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives; artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and other artificial additives; growth hormones; antibiotics; hydrogenated oils; stabilizers; and emulsifiers. The FDA only restricts the use of the term, however, on products that contain added color, synthetic substances and flavors.
This broad definition can pose problems for consumers who might not understand that the natural label does not necessarily mean the food product is healthy, particularly when it contains HFCS. After facing potential lawsuits over their labeling, Cadbury Schweppes removed the "100% Natural" label from 7UP soda, and Kraft removed the "all natural" label from its Capri Sun beverage line, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
Some experts believe our high consumption of HFCS is contributing to our obesity problem, and increased rates of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
This news sparked controversy, according to the Food Navigator USA website, as the US corn trade body said the opinion of one FDA employee does not change the FDA's stance on products made with HFCS. The sugar industry, which competes with HFCS in the sweetener market, said the FDA should formally define how the natural label can be used.
The article quoted Steve Gardener, the director of litigation for consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI): "HFCS has never been natural, and consumers do not consider it to be so. In terms of consumer deception, it doesn't really matter what CSPI, FDA or anyone says - people don't want HFCS and by calling a product 'natural' they are led to believe that it does not contain HFCS."
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