The desire to target rising demand for healthy food and beverage products has shaped labeling trends over the past few years. Of course, taking this approach too far has resulted in some conflicts between companies, regulators and consumer groups. When items are being sold on the promise that they are healthy or otherwise "clean," there is always room for interpretation, and for clarity regarding the exact legal meaning of nutritional claims.
Every time an official ruling is handed down by federal authorities, the result is increased clarity and more confident labeling by food producers. These rules tend to serve as an important factor in the legal battles that spring up over labeling claims. Recently, however, progress getting laws on the books has been slow.
Still on Hold
The National Law Review reported that cases regarding the definition of "natural" on product packaging are currently on hold, with judges expecting the Food and Drug Administration will soon release its new definition of the word. The issue has been open for discussion for approximately two years, with the comment period opening in November 2015 and closing in May 2016. With 7,600 pieces of feedback collected from the public, the FDA still has not made its findings public.
While plaintiffs in cases argued that proceedings should not be stayed in advance of the ruling, because substantial time has passed since the close of comments, it appears the end of the wait is near. The National Law Review pointed to early-October reporting that indicates the FDA will soon actively rule on the meaning of both "healthy" and "natural." Furthermore, the 2018 Appropriations Bill calls for the FDA to rule on the status of "natural" within 60 days of the budget coming into force.
For now, still more cases are entering the court system but remain dependent on the FDA's final decision. When it comes down, a number of these proceedings could be resolved in short order. Furthermore, businesses will have more clarity about how to label items going forward.
A Variety of Claims
While "clean labeling" is the term used for health claims within the food and beverage industry, Quality Assurance & Food Safety recently offered a reminder that those words don't mean anything to 45 percent of customers. Those shoppers aren't specifically looking for "clean label" products. They're seeking items that make promising claims, and the possible terms used go well beyond "natural." The news provider pointed to "homemade" and "home-style" as promising descriptors, as they connote simplicity.
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