In response to requests from the public, FDA has extended the comment period on the use of the term “natural” on food labeling through May 10.

“Due to the complexity of this issue, the FDA is committed to providing the public with more time to submit comments,” FDA says. “The FDA will thoroughly review all public comments and information submitted before determining its next steps.”

The agency turned to the public after recognizing a changing landscape of food ingredients and increased demand from consumers to explore the use of the term “natural.”

In part, FDA says it is taking this action because it received three petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. Furthermore, Federal courts have requested administrative determinations from FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

Though there is no formal definition, FDA has long considered the use of the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic  (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.

“However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation,” FDA says.

Specifically, FDA is asking the public for comments on:

-Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”

-If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and

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

More information can be found here.