My high school government teacher stressed the importance of avoiding ambiguous and loaded language when asking questions. To test this theory, each student developed a question and was asked to go to the lunch room’s open study hall to ask a handful of students our question.

Upon returning and discussing our individual questions nearly everyone had a mixed bag of responses, except for one student who had arrived late to class. His question contained loaded language and 100 percent of the people he polled had the same response. This experiment left an impression on me — to strive to keep ambiguity out of my interview questions.

However, it is not always easy to minimize the ambiguity of a subject. Because of this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to help tackle a subject that has plagued the food and beverage industries for years: What is natural?

Currently, the FDA has no definition for the term natural. However, at present, the agency is not objecting to using the term on the labels of products that do not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances, it states.

But the FDA also notes that its response has not satisfied many consumers. In November, it announced that it would like to hear from the public about what a product labeled as natural signifies to them.

“The FDA is taking this action, in part, because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term ‘natural’ for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term ‘natural’ on food labels,” the FDA stated. “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.’”

Specifically, the FDA noted three questions it wants addressed by the public:

  • Whether it is appropriate to define the term natural,
  • If so, how the agency should define natural, and
  • How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

This possible definition will have an immense impact on the beverage industry. Brand owners could be tasked with changing their labels, or even their formulations, if they want to maintain the natural attribute.

To make sure the FDA knows what you think natural really means, now is the time to share it with the agency. The FDA will be taking comments through Feb. 10. Submissions can be mailed or sent electronically. To see exactly how you can share your opinion, visit