USDA cracks down on chicken labeling, requires more disclosure of additives
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2014 - USDA is demanding that processors label raw chicken and other products more clearly to ensure consumers are aware of added saltwater and other solutions.
A final rule to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday will require that product names on labels for raw meat and poultry include the percentage of added solution and a list of individual ingredients. The labeling regulation will take effect in January 2016.USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service says that existing labels on products such as chicken breasts “are misleading because they do not clearly and conspicuously” disclose that they contain added solutions.
The rule is designed in part to help consumers avoid products with added sodium. Products “with a high sodium content could have unintended health consequences if labels of these products were inadequate in revealing the information of added ingredients to the consumers.”
The release of the final rule comes as consumer advocates are waiting a more controversial regulation requiring labeling of mechanically tenderized meat. Critics of the tenderizing process, which involves puncturing meat with needles or knives, say it can drive pathogens inside the meat.
Consumer advocates have been pressing the White House to release that rule by Wednesday. Otherwise, it cannot take effect before 2018 under FSIS labeling requirements.
FSIS noted in its labeling rule for added solutions that it was trying to align that new requirement with what will be mandated for mechanically tenderized meat.
The labeling requirement for added solutions will cost the industry $5.9 million to $11.2 million, FSIS estimated.
A coalition of three chicken producers, including Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, that say their product is “truly natural” complained to FSIS in 2010 that larger poultry processors were labeling their chicken as “natural” and “reduced sodium” while pumping the product “full of saltwater.”
In addition to requiring disclosure of the saltwater or other added solution, the final rule also will prohibit companies from using the word “enhanced” in the product name.
After FSIS proposed new labeling requirements in 2011, several meat and poultry companies argued that they would confuse consumers, but the agency dismissed the consumer survey results that the processors submitted to make their case.
But the final rule made some changes to the proposed requirements to ensure that the label is clear to shoppers, the agency said.
A meat industry official said that the new labeling requirements are unnecessary since the information is already available on packages in a different form.
“The rule stems from a petition filed by a few poultry companies who seek to gain market advantage and could result in the agency picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” said Mark Dopp, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for the American Meat Institute. “The meat industry is simply collateral damage in this attempt to gain market share.”