July 23, 2011

USDA To Propose Stricter Labeling Rules For Meat

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering new regulations that would require meat and poultry producers to clearly state on their labels when their products contain added water, chicken broth, salt, or similar additives, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting.

In an article published Thursday, AP's Mary Clare Jalonick cited USDA figures which stated that approximately 33-percent of poultry, 15-percent of beef, and 90-percent of pork could contain such substances. In all, she reports that 2/5 of all raw meat sold in the US contains these kinds of added ingredients--figures which do not even take ground beef into account.

"Consumers should be able to make an informed choice in the store, which is why we need to provide clear, informative labels that will help consumers make the best decisions about feeding their families," said Elisabeth Hagen, the Agriculture Department's chief of food safety, told Jalonick. "It has become evident that some raw meat and poultry labels, even those that follow our current guidelines, may not be clear."

Under current rules, labels are required to state when meat or poultry contains added solutions or is "enhanced", but according to the AP, those labels "may not be visible to consumers or understandable."

The revised rule would require include labels that distinctly state what additives the product remains as well as what percentage was included (i.e. "chicken breast - 40% added solution of water and teriyaki sauce"), USDA officials told Jalonick.

"Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council says the poultry industry is split on the issue, as some companies add ingredients to their poultry and some don't," the AP reporter said.

"Red meat processors immediately objected to the rule. The American Meat Institute called it 'wasteful' and 'unnecessary' and said it would cause prices to go up for consumers," she added. "Consumer groups have been pressuring the department to crack down on the practice for several years, saying the added ingredients are unhealthy."

According to Bill Tomson of the Wall Street Journal, "The USDA will publish its proposal in the Federal Register either this week or the next, but officials said the earliest that it can actually implement the labeling rule changes will be Jan. 1, 2014."

"USDA spokeswoman Kathy Cochran said it takes an especially long time to enact new labeling rules because the government wants to give all industry time to comply," he added.


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