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 broth”.
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.