Natural claims continue to be prominent on a variety of food and cosmetic product labels. As discussed in a previous post, FDA has not defined natural but requested public input on what the term should mean when used on food labels. The comment period closed May 10, 2016 and according to the Regulations.gov website, the agency received 7,690 comments. It will take some time for the agency to review all the comments and then write a definition, nevertheless, other forces continue to shape the meaning of “natural”. As I have discussed with several clients, plaintiff attorneys have been at work for a number of years on the meaning of natural. It would seem obvious that ingredients that are not extracted from plants or animals but synthesized through chemical processes are not natural–even when the resulting ingredient is a chemical found in nature, such as vanillin, the major flavorant from vanilla beans. What may be less obvious is that the consumers and courts seem to agree that certain processing steps can cause an ingredient to cease to be natural.
Last week the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced final settlements with four personal care companies that marketed lotions, shampoos and sunscreens as “all natural” or “100% natural” when they contained synthetic ingredients such as dimethicone, ethyhexyl glycerin, and phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol and polyquaternium compounds. In these cases, even if the product only contained a fraction of a percent of man-made ingredients the claims were false since “all” and “100%” natural mean that there can’t be a speck of synthetic ingredients. These cases are worse in that in these synthetic ingredients often made up significant portions of the product formulations. The claims failed the basic requirement that all label statements be “truthful, not misleading and supported by data”.
While the cases cited above are egregious, the requirement that all label statements be “supported by data” should always be carefully considered, even for ‘natural’ claims whether on cosmetics, foods, pet foods or dietary supplement products. It is best to ask your ingredient suppliers about the methods used to produce the ingredients in your products. If they cannot provide the source and derivation of the ingredients, you should consider other suppliers or modify the label claim.