The USDA is being asked to tighten its regulations on
the definition of "natural" on labelling for chicken.
There has been some concern over companies that are labelling chicken as
"100% natural", when in fact the chicken has been mechanically injected with a
marinade solution to "enhance" the flavour and the product.
A policy regarding the use of the word "natural" on poultry products was
created by the USDA in 1982. Under the definition, products cannot be more than
"minimally processed" and cannot contain artificial or synthetic ingredients,
colouring, agents or preservatives.
It is also mandatory that poultry product labels include a description of
exactly what the product contains, such as "enhanced with up to 15% chicken
However, industry practices have changed. Today the USDA decides on a
case-by-case basis which products can use the "natural" label.
Debate: Ingredients are natural
Companies that add marinades to their poultry products say that the
injected ingredients or marinades are all natural products. They also say the
enhanced product is in response to demand by consumers, who want a natural
product, but also want the taste of a marinade.
However, U.S. Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering and California Rep. Dennis
Cardoza, in a letter to USDA, have asked the agency to prohibit the "natural"
label to be used on "pumped-up" fresh chicken and that the "solutions
statements" revealing what is injected in the chicken be more prominent on
poultry labels and indicate each of the solution's ingredients.
True producers at a disadvantage
Pickering noted that poultry producers who truly are "All Natural" face a
marketing disadvantage by allowing their competitors to inject additives into
chicken but still label them "All Natural".
According to the congressmen, approximately 30% of all fresh chicken sold
to consumers has been "pumped up" through injection or vacuum tumbling with up
to 15% water, sodium, binding agents and other additives.
USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service is currently reviewing its
rules for the "natural" label. A proposed revision could be released for comment
later this year.