The definition of “natural” has been a popular topic for years following the growing interest in natural products. The claim lacks clear regulation in many industries, resulting in ambiguity for consumers seeking natural products. While regulations catch up with trends, it is important for businesses with natural products to be able to offer clarity for their consumers on what assurances they have in place to substantiate their “natural” labels.
A Euromonitor survey showed that while consumers were aware that the “natural” label was unregulated, many still trusted it. The most common expectations of the label were that the product be chemical free and without artificial additives. Being able to back up these claims with verified testing not only helps consumers make more informed decisions but may also boost confidence and add credibility to the brand.
There are two aspects commonly assessed when it comes to “natural” claims – the original source of the material and if/how it has been processed from its raw state. Even in industries such as flavoring where the term sees some specific regulation, the definition of “natural” still varies between different countries. Below are summaries of the status of the “natural” label in some key industries in the United States and European Union.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet defined the term “natural”. However, the FDA does have policy detailing its use for labelling of human food. According to this definition, a food cannot be labelled as “natural” if anything synthetic or artificial has been added to the food that would not normally contain it. This also includes color additives, no matter if they are from a natural or synthetic source. Representative of the need for a definition of the term, the FDA recently called for comments on the “natural” claim.
In the EU, there are more specific regulations for using the “natural” label for certain products. For example, for flavoring substances to be termed “natural”, they must originate from vegetable, animal or microbiological material and only obtained through physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes. They should be consistent with those naturally present and identified in nature.
Neither the US nor the EU have specific regulations or a definition for the “natural” claim in supplements.
The FDA treats dietary supplements as a subset of food, and they are regulated separately to conventional food under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). Dietary supplements do not need FDA approval for their safety or effectiveness before they can be put on the market.
The EU does treat dietary supplements as food with the additional targeted Directive 2002/46/EC outlining permitted vitamins and minerals in food supplements. However, specific regulations are up to the member country, and they consequently vary significantly across the EU.
In the US, cosmetics are regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. There is currently no regulatory definition of “natural” for cosmetics, but they must not be misbranded. It is clear that there is growing concern over this, judging by the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed settlements penalizing companies making unfounded “100% natural” or “all-natural” claims.
The EU does not have a harmonized definition of “natural” for use in the personal care and cosmetics industry. Similar to the US, there are only general requirements that labels must be true and not misleading in nature. The lack of regulatory guidance on this claim has resulted in the appearance of many third-party certifications in the industry, each of which have their own “natural” content requirements.
With no harmonized definition of “natural”, it becomes important for businesses to clarify what their “natural” claim means and to be able to verify it. One of the most common points when defining “natural” is the sourcing of the material in question.
Carbon-14 natural product testing is a method that can verify whether a product is plant-based or petrochemical-derived. Living or recently living things have a known level of the weakly radioactive carbon-14, whereas petrochemicals will not contain any as all of the carbon-14 have decayed. Therefore, by measuring the carbon-14 in a product it can be clearly proven that no petrochemical-derived material is present.
Miami-based Beta Analytic is a natural product testing facility that provides fast and high-quality Carbon-14 testing according to the analytical standards ISO 16620-2 or ASTM D6866. Results are reported in 5-7 business days and can be accessed online 24/7. A priority service is available for results required in 4 business days or less. For inquiries, contact Beta Analytic at firstname.lastname@example.org or call a local forwarding office.
European Commission. 2015. Clarification of the absence of European harmonised
standard for natural and organic cosmetics. (Accessed September 2017).
European Commission. updated 2017. Food supplements. (Accessed September 2017).
European Food Safety Authority. Date unknown. Food Supplements. (Accessed September 2017).
European Parliament, Council of the European Union. 2008. EUR-Lex. Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavouring properties for use in and on foods and amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 1601/91, Regulations (EC) No 2232/96 and (EC) No 110/2008 and Directive 2000/13/EC (Text with EEA relevance). (Accessed September 2017).
European Parliament, Council of the European Union. 2009. Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on cosmetic products (recast) (Text with EEA relevance). (Accessed August 2017).
Fair, L. 2016. Federal Trade Commission. Are your “all natural” claims all accurate? (Accessed September 2017).
Food Standards Agency. 2008. Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc in food labelling. (Accessed September 2017).
Holmes, L. 2016. Euromonitor International. The Intangible Appeal of “Natural”: Growing Consumer Interest in an Unregulated Product Label. (Accessed September 2017).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Updated 2016. “Natural” on Food Labeling. (Accessed September 2017).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Updated 2016. Small Businesses & Homemade Cosmetics: Fact Sheet. (Accessed September 2017).
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Updated 2017. Dietary Supplements. (Accessed September 2017).
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