Judge: FDA definition of "natural" ain't gonna happen

Walk down the supermarket aisle, and the boxes almost scream out at you, "All Natural!"

So, what does it mean to claim a product is "natural?" Not much, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that oversees packaged food labeling in the U.S. The federal government has no legal definition of it.

There have been a bevy of consumer lawsuits, trying to force food manufacturers – those who produce orange juice, ice cream, and potato chips - to back up their "natural" claims.

According to FoodNavigator, even the food makers want federal guidance. In their survey, 63-percent said the FDA should come up with a formal definition of what is "natural."

But a California judge this month basically said it ain't gonna happen.

Photo: Nick Perla, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Nick Perla, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The case was filed by Judith Janney, who was represented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, against General Mills. Janney claims that the "natural" label on GM's Nature Valley granola bars is deceptive.  She says the bars contain highly processed ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup, and/ or maltodextrin.

General Mills filed a motion to dismiss Janney's case, saying her claims should be referred to the FDA, because the agency has jurisdiction.

But U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of California noted that the FDA has shown little interest in defining what is natural.  She goes on:

"…any referral to the FDA would likely prove futile."

The judge also said the complaint was "too vague" about why General Mills marketing was deceptive.

Janney has until June 7 to file an amended complaint.

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