USDA to FINALLY Define Natural
The controversy has lasted decades, and all the time millions of consumers have been confused and frustrated. Finally, the USDA has taken a long awaited stand on defining “natural” on meat and poultry products, or at least solicit further public opinion on the topic.
The word “natural” was not concisely defined or consistently regulated on your meat and poultry products, which led to much confusion and misleading claims and advertising. Just to give you a little reminder about what the USDA allows in “naturally” labeled products, just remember the two Foster Farms chickens who, “say no to plumping”? What’s plumping? Plumping is when fresh chickens are enhanced or pumped with up to 15% added salt water, which upon many things, can increase the “natural” chicken’s sodium content by up to 700%! Pumping is only one of the various things that the USDA allows under “natural” labeling laws.
The USDA hopes to coordinate both their FSIS and Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) definitions of “natural” and “naturally raised.” Both of these terms are currently used voluntarily; as manufacturers realize the huge marketability driven by consumer’s associated assumptions and misconceptions surrounding these terms. A similar USDA initiative was launched in 2006 and prompted 12,000 comments, which ranged from concerns about “natural” additives, seasonings, and tenderizing solutions to a general misunderstanding and confusion for both consumers and manufacturers as to the actual meaning of the claim. The FSIS also received mixed messages as to whether they should actually establish a concise definition for the term.
Currently the FSIS policy states that “’natural’ may be used in the labeling of meat and poultry products 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.’” Minimally processed is then further defined to include “traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or to make it safe for human consumption e.g., smoking, roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting, or those physical processed which do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or which only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g., grinding meat, separating eggs… and pressing fruits to produce juices.” The FSIS then goes on to say, “all products claiming to be natural or a natural food should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term natural…” leaving room for loop holes, exceptions and general mass confusion.
On top of this, and adding even more confusion to the mix, the AMS’s current ‘naturally raised’ policy states that, “the meat must come from animals that have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics [small exception], and have never been fed animal by-products…and aquatic by-products.”
The USDA announced its intention to clear up ‘natural’ confusion through an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking earlier this week; let’s hope for the sake of confused and misled consumers and manufacturers that the USDA will reach a ‘natural’ consensus soon. We all win when we can avoid confusion and have clear messaging about health and nutrition. It is not about marketing…it is about health.