In late 2021, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency published a document on food label claims, including when a food can be described as “natural.” Interestingly, the document notes that its guidance is “in accordance with the requirements set out in the FDA” even though FDA has not published its own guidance on natural. (Perhaps the CFIA publication can spur FDA and provide some thoughts for its own finalization?)
In general, CFIA states that a food can be described as natural if the food and its ingredients:
- Do not contain, or have ever contained, an added vitamin, mineral nutrient, artificial flavouring agent or food additive.
- Have not had any constituent or fraction thereof removed or significantly changed, except the removal of water (for example, the removal of caffeine)
- Have not been subjected to processes that have significantly altered (that is to say, maximum processes)
The following would be recognized as natural:
- Those that undergo minimum processes that do not alter their original physical, chemical or biological state.
- Substances that impart flavours derived from a plant or animal source may claim to be “natural.”
- Substances using acids, bases, salts, and sweeteners to impart sour, bitter, salty, and sweet tastes in conjunction with natural flavours, as these do not alter the “natural” status of the flavours.
There are, however, cases in which a product can use a natural claim even if the product does not completely adhere to the above if the company is able to substantiate the deviation through an outcome-based approach. For example, a food or ingredient that undergoes maximum processing may be able to hold a “natural” claim if the company provides evidence and justification to demonstrate that a process could be considered not to have altered the original state of the food (for example, a process that does not include chemical addition).
The guidance for use of a natural claim also applies to the use of the word natural in a trademark. Additionally, anytime the word natural appears on a food label, the company is required to have controls in place to ensure the natural claim is truthful and not misleading. This substantiation will need to be available, if requested during an inspection, and be a part of the facility’s preventive control plans (PCP) if required under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).
If they choose other evidence-based means to substantiate the claim, they should be prepared to answer inquiries or adjust the claim if it is misleading, using one or more of the following options:
- Develop criteria for a truthful and not misleading claim with a definition or interpretation of the term or claim and criteria required to meet it. The guidance may include a process of oversight, such as verification measures for ensuring the criteria developed meet regulatory requirements of truthful and not misleading labelling.
- Conduct consumer research to determine if the consumer would be misled by the claim. While a minimum sample size is not set, the consumer research should be robust enough to draw significant conclusions.
- Use a third-party certification with established criteria that are available to consumers, using the third-party logo or trademark on the label or advertising to indicate that the third party has certified the product after verifying its compliance against a standard.
- Other means may be used as long as evidence-based measures are taken to ensure the use of the term is truthful and not misleading to consumers.
In all cases, the company must also have procedures in place to respond to consumer complaints, logging all complaints and how they were addressed.
While the term natural continues to be rather loosely used by consumers, the regulatory bodies are seeking to help the food industry define it in ways that can be verified and substantiated. Should you need assistance in determining the validity of any claims you may wish to use, contact TAG Canada. We can assist you.