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Just as the Comment Period for "Natural" Ends, FDA Announces Intent to Re-Examine What It Means to Be a "Healthy" Food

As any company making and selling food products knows, late last year FDA requested information and comments regarding the appropriate use of the term "natural" for food - the Agency asked what types of processing make that claim misleading, or does the food have to be completely unprocessed?  Does natural connote "healthy" and is it confused with "organic" and should it be associated only with certain nutritional benefits?  And a host of other questions intended to help the Agency determine whether it can (or will) take the next step towards establishing a regulatory definition of "natural" on food products.  Tuesday May 10th was the last day to submit comments to FDA's Natural Docket - now closed, this docket is indicating that it received over 7,600 individual comments.  So it will not be a small task for the Agency to review and consider all of those thousands of comments - but they've already decided to wade into another complex and important food claim, in this case the claim "healthy."

Specifically, FDA issued a statement (in the context of a dispute with KIND LLC about some of the labeling claims for its KIND Bar products) indicating that the Agency intends to review the scope of the nutrient content claim "healthy" also on May 10th when the Natural Docket was closing after a six-month comment period.  The Agency stated:

In light of evolving nutrition research, forthcoming Nutrition Facts Labeling final rules, and a citizen petition, we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term “healthy.”  We plan to solicit public comment on these issues in the near future.

The referenced Citizen Petition (CP) was filed in December by KIND, which explains on its website the goal of the CP and argues that the regulatory definition of "healthy" is outdated and no longer scientifically or nutritionally valid, because it focuses on the amount of fat/saturated fat in a food regardless of other nutritional value.  FDA has apparently agreed with that worldview, and so it will eventually be issuing a call for public comments to help inform those efforts.  We will keep our readers apprised of those Agency efforts and the deadline for commenting on how to revise the definition of "healthy."

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Joanne counsels global clients on the regulatory and distribution-related implications when bringing a new FDA-regulated product to market and how to ensure continued compliance after a product is commercialized.