Editor’s Note:  Coral Beach, formerly of The Packer, joins us today as the new Managing Editor of Food Safety News. With more than 3,300 comments having been filed since Nov. 12, the FDA has extended its deadline for accepting public input on the use of the word “natural” on food labels. Originally the comment period was set to expire on Feb. 10, but “in direct response to requests from the public” the Food and Drug Administration is extending the deadline to May 10. natural_406x250The agency issued its request for comments and information after receiving three citizen petitions asking for the term “natural” to be defined and another citizen petition asking FDA to prohibit the use of the word on food labels because it can mislead consumers. “We also note that some federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as ‘natural,’ ” according to a news release. The vast majority of comments filed as of Jan. 3 were from individuals concerned about genetically engineered foods, preservatives, additives and antibiotic use in animals. Among the few organizations that have filed comments is the American Nurses Association, Silver Spring Md., which wants the FDA to prohibit the use of the word “natural” on genetically engineered foods or foods containing any genetically engineered ingredients. “Furthermore, ANA requests that the FDA require clear, appropriate food labeling including the country-of-origin and any genetic modification of any of the food’s ingredients,” executive director Debbie D. Hatmaker wrote in the organization’s comments. “The public has a right to know the contents of their food and food products and the manner in which they were processed or modified.” Two other organizations — the North American Meat Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association — joined to request more time to prepare comments and compile information. The two groups point out that FDA is seeking comments on 16 questions and issues related to the use of “natural” on food labels. Existing brand names are just one of the “complicated” issues the meat and grocery groups say will require detailed scrutiny. “Many of the associations’ member companies, those regulated by FDA and FSIS, have brand names and products with labeling claims that have existed for many years, and sometimes decades,” according to the groups’ comments. “Thus, the FDA and FSIS reactions and responses to answers to the questions asked could, and likely will, have a significant impact on the industries regulated by both federal agencies.”