The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) has approved a final rule that amends the meat and poultry products inspection regulations to expand the circumstances in which FSIS will generically approve the labels of meat and poultry products.
Currently, the Secretary of Agriculture has to approve all labels used on federally inspected and passed, and imported, meat and poultry products before the products are distributed in commerce. Without approved labels, meat and poultry products may not be sold, offered for sale, or otherwise distributed in commerce.
On December 5, 2011, FSIS published a proposed rule to amend the meat and poultry products inspection regulations (9 CFR 317.5 and 381.133) to expand the circumstances under which the labels of meat and poultry products would be deemed to be generically approved by the agency (76 FR 75809). Generic label approval refers to the prior approval of labels or modifications to labels by the agency without submitting such labels to FSIS for sketch approval.
The final rule provides that establishments are required to submit for evaluation only certain types of labeling, e.g., labels for temporary approval, labels for products produced under religious exemption, labels for products for export with labeling deviations, and labels with claims and special statements. FSIS will continue to require the submission of such labels because they are more likely to present significant policy issues that have health or economic significance. Examples of labels that must continue to be submitted for evaluation and approval before use under the final rule are:
- Labels for chicken produced under Buddhist exemption.
- Labels for beef intestine produced for export to China that identify the product as “beef casings.”
- Labels for temporary use that do not list all ingredients in the correct order of predominance.
Examples of special statements and claims for use on labels that must also continue to be submitted for evaluation and approval before use under the final rule are:
- Claims relating a product’s nutrient content to a health or a disease condition.
- Statements that identify a product as “organic” or containing organic ingredients.
- Claims that are undefined in FSIS regulations or the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, e.g., claims regarding the raising of animals, such as “no antibiotics administered” or “vegetarian fed.”
- Instructional or disclaimer statements concerning pathogens, e.g., “for cooking only” or “not tested for E. coli O157:H7.”
- Statements that identify a product as “natural.”
Under this final rule, statements on labels that are defined in FSIS’s regulations or the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, except for “natural” and negative claims, may be generically approved by the agency without being submitted for evaluation and approval. Such claims include a statement that characterizes a product’s nutrient content that is consistent with the applicable agency regulation, such as “low fat;” that has geographical significance, such as “Italian Style;” or that makes a country of origin statement on the label of any meat or poultry product “covered commodity.”
Consistent with the proposed rule, FSIS will not view the addition of an allergen statement (e.g., “contains soy”) applied in accordance with the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) as a special statement or claim that requires sketch approval. Under this final rule, a label bearing a child-nutrition (CN) box will not be considered to have a special statement or claim on it that would require sketch approval by FSIS. The CN information in CN boxes is reviewed and evaluated for approval by the Agricultural Marketing Service, removing it from the realm of special statements or claims. Therefore, under this final rule a CN box on a meat or poultry product is generically approved.