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NewsBites November 2013 Issue

Courts Weigh “Natural” Claims for GMO Foods

Can a food labeled “all-natural” nonetheless contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients? The answer to that question became even more tangled recently as judges across the country have issued conflicting rulings. In class-action suits brought against tortilla-maker Gruma Corp. and General Mills, judges put the cases on hold to give the FDA time to clarify the status of GMO foods and “natural” labeling. In two other cases, however, involving Smucker’s and Frito-Lay, judges declined to defer to the FDA. As one noted, “Various parties have repeatedly asked the FDA to rule on ‘natural’ labeling, and the FDA has declined to do so because of its limited resources and preference to focus on other priorities.”

The FDA addressed “natural” label claims in a 1993 non-binding guideline stating the term means “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 the food.” Since then, lawsuits and lobbying have sought to clarify whether foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and, more recently, GMO ingredients qualify.

The legal confusion underscores the unreliability of using “natural” as a label clue to healthy eating. For more, see our August 2008 Special Report, “Why ‘Natural’ Labels Don’t Necessarily Mean ‘Healthy.’” And to learn more about GMOs, see this issue’s Special Report.

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