The Food and Drug Administration wants to decide under what conditions the word natural is allowed to appear on the front of food packages, much as the term organic is restricted today.
Both words had previously been used at the discretion of manufacturers, with the minimal guidance that the term can only be used if "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." The new rulemaking process is intended to address whether "natural" can be applied to highly processed food, such as high-fructose corn syrup, as well as "production methods, such as the use of pesticides" and "thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation."
Depending on the rules' final form, this may also be a back door to labeling food containing genetically modified organisms, a topic that is being hotly debated in Congress and state legislatures.
In response to pushback from industry and the public, the government has extended the comment period on the new definitions through May 10, 2016.