By Ricardo Carvajal –
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”) has released a prepublication version of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) that seeks additional public input on the conditions under which FSIS should permit use of the claim “natural” in the labeling of meat and poultry products (FSIS has authority to review and approve labeling prior to marketing of such products). FSIS previously signaled its intent to issue a proposed rule. However, in response to a prior Federal Register notice and a public hearing that addressed the use of “natural” in labeling, USDA received over 12,000 comments that expressed a wide range of views. In addition, FSIS received several petitions requesting that FSIS adopt particular interpretations of “natural.” The evident lack of any consensus on the meaning of “natural” has prompted FSIS to seek another round of comment.
In its ANPRM, FSIS asks for comment on numerous issues, including: whether FSIS should establish a definition of “natural” by regulation or maintain a more flexible definition by policy; whether multi-functional ingredients (e.g., ingredients that may have both flavoring and antimicrobial effects) can properly be labeled as “natural;” whether the use of recently developed processing methods should be permitted for “natural” products; whether “enhancement” (i.e., addition of marinades/flavoring/tenderizing solutions) should be permitted in “natural” products; whether conditions under which animals are raised should be considered (the Agricultural Marketing Service currently permits use of the claim “naturally raised”); and whether there should be a single Federal definition of “natural” (currently FSIS and FDA maintain separate policies). In addition, FSIS makes clear that it continues to consider the use of carbon monoxide in modified atmosphere packaging systems to be incompatible with a “natural” claim, and requests comment on that issue.