Natural products have reached a greater depth in the public consciousness than ever before, thanks to debate and developments in the field of genetic modification.
In January 2001 the FDA issued draft guidelines to assist companies in conveying on the label whether or not foods were developed using bioengineering - also known as genetic modification, a term that the agency did not recommend using due to consumer perception.
But the FDA's guidelines are geared more towards helping companies market their products in a way that will be palatable to the public, and do not deal with ethical issues relating to ingredients, formulation and processing.
The IANPP's natural products definitions (two sets exist - one for ingestible ingredients and one for topical) were the primary goal of the association, which was set up in August 2004 and currently consists of 25 charter members.
The ingestible ingredients definition stipulates that, in order to be truly classed as natural, they must be derived from non-synthetic/man-made and/or recognized food sources such as plants, inorganic minerals, and animals. They must not undergo changes in one or more covalent bonds during manufacturing and/or processing, or contain artificial or synthetic ingredients.
Processes should involve no solvents other than those found in nature, and not introduce anything that is not naturally derived. The definitions also highlight the need for full transparency in the labeling and documentation of ingredient derivation and processing methods.
"We hope that, once completed, industry embraces our criteria so that the word 'natural' maintains its meaning to producers and consumers alike," said Darrin Duber-Smith, executive director of the association.
While the IANPP is welcoming public comment on the draft guidelines, it is pressing ahead with the next point on its agenda - compiling a glossary of 'non-natural' ingredients used in finished products.
In the future, the IANPP hopes to establish a system for product certification, labeling guidelines, and stringent regulations for membership. The definitions are, at this stage, intended to be wholly voluntary and do not constitute a legal obligation for companies purporting to make and market natural products.
IANPP's initiative echoes calls from the American Herbal Products Association for organic dietary supplements to be allowed to be labeled as such under the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act.
Last month supplement manufacturer New Chapter announced that it has reformulated its entire range of multivitamins to USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) standards for organic foods, and obtained third party certification from ICS International to support its claim.
The re-launch of New Chapter's products was prompted by Organic Trade Association, which threw down the gauntlet to the company to prove that organic multivitamins are possible.
"The organic movement is gaining enormous support," president Tom Newmark told NutraIngredients-USA.com. "Having an organic option for dietary supplements will resonate with the core consumer in the natural products industry."