Guest article

Defining ‘natural’ is a priority for NPA in 2014

18-Dec-2013 - By John Shaw, Executive Director and CEO, Natural Products Association
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At the Natural Products Association, we are constantly working toward our mission of ensuring consumers have access to healthy products that will improve their well-being and longevity, and that the dedicated and passionate individuals who make and sell those products can continue to do so.

Over the last year, the debate surrounding the definition of “natural” has gotten louder and louder. Retailers and consumers are growing more confused by the lack of an official definition, and many manufacturers are faced with lawsuits after marketing their product as natural. It’s time for the industry to figure out just what natural means.

That’s why a major 2014 priority for NPA is to define “natural” for our industry. As the leading trade association representing the entire natural products industry, from concept to consumer, this is the “natural” (pun intended) next step for NPA to take.

There is currently no government standard for natural food, so it’s imperative that we define what natural means to ensure responsible labeling. It’s also crucial that we have educated people, those who know the ins and outs of this industry, working on the definition of natural. 

The industry cannot stand aside and let the courts decide the meaning of truly natural food. If we leave the issue up to the courts, we wouldn’t necessarily have a proper definition of natural, but rather a legal safe house. We wouldn’t have a standard that manufacturers have to strive to meet, but a definition that fits the lowest common denominator. And, frankly, that just isn’t acceptable for an industry that takes "natural" very seriously.

Input from suppliers, manufacturers and retailers

As NPA moves forward in the process to define natural, it’s important that we work with suppliers and manufacturers to see what can be done in the natural sector. Additionally, we will highlight the retailers’ feedback, especially as they bring forth the consumers’ perspectives as to what they believe is a natural product. Utilizing both of these viewpoints is an opportunity for NPA to make true progress in this important initiative. 

Along with looking into natural sources, processes, and formulations, NPA’s definition should also consider the long-burning question of whether products containing genetically modified ingredients are natural. There are nuances to this issue that NPA is best positioned to consider, especially in light of our supplier and retailer membership. While the white paper NPA published on GMOs stated that genetic modification is not found in nature, it’s crucial that a natural definition take more than just the GMO issue into consideration when dealing with an industry standard. 

Attainable standard

It’s not enough to write the best Natural Standard – NPA wants to write a strong, yet attainable, standard. We don’t want to raise the bar so high that no products can be labeled truly natural. Rather, as we did with the cosmetic and home care standard, we want to draw a line in the sand to set apart those companies that are doing the right thing for natural. Once we set the standard and start working with industry to meet it, then we can continue evolving it into the best definition of natural.   

Finally, to aid in this process, NPA is bolstering our scientific and regulatory affairs department with the addition of a food scientist. We’ve begun the search for a scientist to focus on nutrition, research, and regulations specific to the food industry. This person will be tasked with leading the path forward on this matter.

Much lies ahead in the journey to define natural, and NPA is steadily preparing to make the first move. It’s both an exciting and challenging time to be part this industry, and we eagerly anticipate all that 2014 will bring.

Related topics: Product claims, Going non-GMO, Regulation