Use of the term ‘naturel’ or ‘100 per cent nature’ in France is governed by a law dating from July 1978, but proliferation of these words on food products recently has led the directorate general for competition, consumption and fighting fraud (DGCCRF) to publish a new information note to help inspectors who control food claims.
The note sets out what the intrinsic characteristics of a product should be in order for it to be deemed natural. It also gives guidance on how the term should not be used to give the impression that one product or brand in particular has special ‘natural’ characteristics – when in fact all other brands in the category have the same qualification.
The document was drawn up taking into account views of consumers, professionals, and industry associations, but the DGCCRF says it does not represent all the views since there was divergence in what people wanted.
It is also not intended to be an exhaustive document, but inspectors can seek specific guidance from the DG if required.
What’s French for natural?
The DGCCRF says the term ‘naturel’ (or another term or expression meaning the same thing) should only be used on food products that come from nature and are sold in their natural state, or have had only mechanical changes made to them, such as peeling, slicing, drying or pressing.
For produce that has undergone some process of stabilisation, cooking, fermentation, pressurisation, roasting or infusion, it is recommended that the term ‘d’origine naturel’ be used (‘of natural origin’).
For composite products to claim to be made of ‘natural’ ingredients or ingredients ‘of natural origin’, their components should, in their own right, conform to the above definitions. No flavourings or additives should be used.
Finally, the DGCCRF said it important to avoid misleading consumers into thinking that one product is natural over others in the same category, when in fact they all have the same stake to the word.
This confusion could occur for fruits and vegetables. For instance, a virgin olive oil should say ‘virgin olive oil is a natural product’.
If the brand name were included – ‘virgin olive oil [brand name] is a natural product’ – a tribunal could find that to be misleading to the consumer.
What is not included
The information note does not apply to the term natural as used to describe food additives or flavourings; these uses of the term are covered under separate legislation.