Recently Congress is working toward making natural a label that the Food and Drug Administration would actually have to regulate.
Ruth MacDonald, chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University, says, "At this point, the word natural is not defined by the FDA, so they don't regulate the use of that word on food packages. So it really doesn't mean anything legally."
But that doesn't mean companies can put whatever they want on food packages MacDonald says the word natural falls in between regulation, "So is it advertising? Or is it actually describing the kind of content of the food?"
In the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling act that passed the House of Representatives last month, a subsection would make the word 'natural' adhere to standards set by the USDA.
However there is a subjectivity of the word natural. And just because something's natural doesn't mean it's safe, MacDonald says, "Natural of course, when we think about that word we assume that it means that it's free from any kind of chemicals, that it's just found in nature, it's just the way it should be, and that may or may not be the case and of course we also know everything that's natural is not alway safe either."
USDA could set parameters for 'natural' according to MacDonald, but she thinks there would be some challenges, "Consumers would say, well this isn't natural and you're labeling that it is and on the other hand manufacturers would say you won't let me use the word natural even though I think my product is so I think it's going to be very difficult for the FDA to really pick the right definition for the word natural."
A holdup for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act could be the fact that it also includes making GMO labeling voluntary, rather than what some states are working on with mandatory labeling.