Sunday, September 13, 2009

Defining Natural Meat - A Chance to Comment

On Friday, September 11, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit public comment on the use of the term "natural" on meat and poultry products labeling.

This has been a contentious issue. Current FSIS policy states that the term "natural" may be used "provided that the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredients, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and that the product is not more than minimally processed." However, the issue of whether or not this would allow for the use of a "natural" label when sodium lactate made from corn was added to the meat has been at the center of the controversy.

The FSIS began to consider its definition of natural in response to an industry petition filled in October 2006. In December 2006, FSIS held a public meeting and requested comments on "natural" claims, receiving a high number of comments. No action was taken, with labeling approval decisions made on a case-by-case basis.

Comments can be submitted by email through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. Posted Instructions: "Go to www.regulations.gov and in the "Search for Open Regulations" box, select "Food Safety and Inspection Service" from the agency drop-down menu and then click on "Submit." In the Docket ID column, select FDMS Docket Number FSIS-2006-0040A to submit or view public comments and to view supporting and related materials available electronically."

Comments can also be mailed to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 5601 Sunnyside Ave, Room 2-2127, Beltsville, Md. 20705.

Comments must be received by November 13, 2009.

Note that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) issued rules on a voluntary certification for a "naturally raised" marketing claim standard at 74 Fed. Reg. 3541 (Jan. 21, 2009). The AMS naturally raised standard has been criticized by some because it does not incorporate any standards for production issues such as requiring pasturing or access to the outdoors. FDA has not defined the term "natural" although has implied that ingredients that were subject to significant processing may still be considered to be "natural."

UPDATE: The ANPR was published on Monday in the Federal Register at 74 Fed. Reg. 46,951 (Sept. 14, 2009).

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