USDA wants disclosure on poultry ingredients labeling

On November 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a final ruling requiring packagers of hot dogs, bologna, and sausage to be more forthcoming in the ingredients statement if their products contain chicken or turkey meat.

Specifically at issue is poultry flesh that is separated from bones by high pressure machinery that grinds bones and flesh together and then filters out bone fragments by means of a screen. Such poultry may contain parts that sound decidedly unappetizing, like skin and sex glands. Packagers of products containing poultry processed this way will be required to list "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in the ingredients statement instead of just "chicken" or "turkey." "We think consumers have a right to know when products are made with mechanically separated poultry," says Michael R. Taylor, acting under secretary for food safety. USDA already has similar requirements for other meat products. A coalition of consumer groups wanted USDA to get even more specific by listing actual poultry body parts on the label. Most consumers won't understand the meaning of "mechanically separated," they say. The groups, including Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, the National Consumers League, Citizens Action and the Consumer Federation of America, banded together to launch a Truth in Food Labeling campaign, which included ads in major national newspapers. Reacting to the campaign, poultry groups-including the National Broiler Council and the National Turkey Federation-liked neither change, not surprisingly. Listing every body part is "going ridiculously far" said a spokesman for the Broiler Council. Packagers have until November 4, 1996 to comply with the new rule. Separately, the fresh/frozen poultry labeling issue was iced for the second time after being nixed the first time in a Senate vote (see PW, Nov. '95, p. 10). A House-Senate conference will allow poultry that's chilled below 26°F (the point at which the flesh hardens) to remain labeled as "fresh." A USDA rule that would have banned the practice is now prohibited from implementation according to a provision in the 1996 Agriculture Appropriations bill recently passed by the conference.

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