The term “all natural” has a different meaning on poultry and meat labels than it does on other food labels, and the debate over “natural” labels for meats comes up every now and again. Here’s the scoop on what “all natural” means on a meat label or poultry label, how meat labels are currently regulated, and the requirements for labeling meats in the United States.
Before we begin with a discussion of natural labeling, there is some meat labeling news I want to let you know about. In December 2010, the USDA announced that starting in 2012, nutrition labels for meat must be included on 40 of the most commonly purchased cuts of beef, poultry, pork and lamb. Until 2012, meat labels are not legally required to have nutrition facts panels. The new nutrition facts labels must include Calories, Calories from Fat, Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, and Protein.
Interestingly, any meat label that lists its lean percentage, such as “85% lean,” must also list its corresponding fat percentage, such as “15% fat.”
The USDA’s intention behind requiring the nutrition labels is to help consumers make “informed decisions” that will enable healthy eating choices.
If you are a meat processor who will be making changes to your labels in advance of 2012, we’d be happy to help you to design and print new meat labels that satisfy USDA requirements.
What Are the Regulations for Labeling Meat and Poultry as “Natural?”
Meat and poultry label statements are evaluated by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for truth and accuracy in label claims.
According to FSIS policy, the term “natural” may be used on a meat label or poultry label if the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. In addition, the product cannot be more than “minimally processed” (defined as processes which make food edible, preserve it, or make it safe such as smoking, freezing, drying, or grinding meat).
Are “Natural” Label Claims Evaluated Before Meats and Poultry are Marketed?
Yes. Meat labels and poultry labels must be submitted to the FSIS for pre-approval before they can be used in commerce.
According to Gwendolyn Wyard, Processing Program Reviewer and Technical Specialist at Oregon Tilth, the main difference between FSIS meat labeling regulation and FDA food label regulation for non-meat foods is that the FSIS is pro-active, while the FDA is re-active. While meat and poultry producers must submit their label claims to the FSIS for review before they can be marketed, makers of other foods can market their products first, and will face repercussions only if the FDA decides to take issue with them.
What is the Current USDA Standard for Label Statements on “Natural” Meat Labels and Poultry Labels?
The current FSIS Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book (2003) requires meat and poultry labels to include a brief statement directly beneath or beside the “natural” label claim that “explains what is meant by the term natural, i.e., that the product is a natural food because it contains no artificial ingredients and is only minimally processed.” If this explanatory statement is located somewhere other than directly beneath or beside the claim on the primary display panel of the meat label, an asterisk should be used to tie the explanation to the claim.”
Can I Print the Words “All Natural” on my Meat Labels?
Yes, if the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) approves your product and label claims.
Can I Print the Words “Organic” on my Meat Labels?
Yes, if your meat processing facility has been certified organic under USDA National Organic Program standards.
Demand for Stricter Standards and The Truth Behind Natural Labeling …
So far we’ve discussed current laws – now on to the debate. Some meat and poultry producers want the government to provide more regulation of “natural” label claims so that they can make their meat labels more informative, and so that they can better promote their meat and poultry products that are produced without antibiotics and hormones(claims which are not currently regulated by the FSIS).
Recently, there has been disagreement among poultry producers about the type of chicken that is being labeled as “natural.” Labeling chicken as “natural” when it has been injected with salt, water, and other ingredients has been questioned by producers, politicians, and health advocates.
They have brought salt levels to the public’s attention after studies showed that 1/3 of chicken in the United States was injected with additives which could potentially harm people who are required to limit their salt intake. This information has led the USDA to review its current policy, and the FSIS has said it plans to issue new rules and regulations in the fall of 2010.
One of the biggest advocates of revising “natural” labeling regulations is Perdue Chicken, the nation’s third largest poultry producer. Perdue has taken the position that, because consumers put a lot of trust in food labels, Perdue chicken labels will only say “natural” or “all natural” if the chicken contains no additives, including salt and water.
The Truthful Labeling Coalition (TLC) (of which Perdue is an active member) is a coalition of natural chicken producers and over 30,000 grassroots citizens representing each of our nation’s 50 states. The TLC is committing their time and effort to urge the USDA to change their labeling regulations on natural foods.
Truthful Labeling Coalition proposed new regulations include:
● allowing only 100% natural chicken (with no additives) to be claimed as “natural”
● requiring all chicken producers to identify all added ingredients in bold face print
● allowing the “Raised Without Antibiotics” label claim for brands of poultry that don’t use any compounds that are categorized as antibiotics
More Resources on Meat Labeling: