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What is “Natural” Food?

What is “Natural” Food?


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Apart from safe consumption, consumers are looking for food that is “natural”. In fact, more and more health foods labelled as “natural” can be found in the market.

However, what does the term “natural” mean? This is a tough question that even U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot answer. FDA has only expressed that a food can be labelled as “natural” if nothing artificial or synthetic (e.g. colour additives, flavourings, etc.) is included in or has been added to the food.

Photo Source:Nature’s Logic, 2015

This is not a perfect explanation. For example, can a food still be labelled as “natural” if pesticides have once been used in farming, or if the food has been subject to irradiation or mixed with genetically modified ingredients during food processing / manufacturing stages? Indeed Federal courts once requested FDA to determine whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labelled as “natural”. Few citizens even asked the agency to prohibit the term “natural” on food labels.

In this connection, FDA, at the end of last year, asked for public comment on several questions:

  1. Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural”?

  2. If so, how the agency should define “natural”?

  3. How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels?

Source of Information:FDA, 2016

How would you define the term “natural” for food then? As early as in 2008, the Food Standard Agency of United Kingdom already specified the criteria for the use of the term “natural” in food, ingredient, additive and flavouring:

As for natural additives, they must be made from natural sources using traditional food preparation or appropriate physical processes (e.g. distillation). Similar criteria also apply to natural flavourings. Simply speaking, they cannot be made using chemical processes or treatments.

Source of Information:FSA, 2008