Bakers ask U.S.D.A. to clarify aspect of term 'natural'

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — While generally supportive of existing definitions of the term "natural," the American Bakers Association has urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to clarify the meaning of "minimally processed," an expression that is part of the existing definition.

While the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S.D.A. is seeking comments about the definition of natural in reference to meat products, Lee Sanders, A.B.A. senior vice-president of government relations and public affairs, offered comments because of how a U.S.D.A. definition could affect how the Food and Drug Administration interprets and applies the term to baked foods. The existing F.D.A. definition was established in 1982 and revised in 2005.

Ms. Sanders asked the U.S.D.A. to eliminate the term "minimally processed" or define it in a way that is not "unfair and un-scientific." Because of the "minimally processed" inclusion, "it is not clear whether natural ingredients that undergo appropriate physical processing in order to purify them in foods may be considered ‘natural,’" the A.B.A. said. For example, arguments could be made that the use of enzymes in food processing should be allowed in natural foods, the A.B.A. said.

"Many foods use added enzymes in their processing but are generally viewed as ‘natural,’ such as cheeses," the A.B.A. said.

The bakers also asked the A.B.A. to be mindful of consumer views on the subject. Citing a national study, the A.B.A. said 63% of consumers prefer natural foods and beverages.

"Any definition of the term ‘natural’ should be consistent with the expectations of consumers while ensuring truthful and non-misleading uses of the term," the A.B.A. said.

At the same time, Ms. Sanders noted many consumers are under the impression that natural and organic are synonyms.

"A.B.A. believes that the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are different and should have separate standards," she said.

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