CU in support of better labeling for meat and poultry products with added solutions

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September 26, 2011

Docket Clerk
U.S. Department of Agriculture
FSIS, Room 2–2127
George Washington Carver Center
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
Beltsville, MD 20705–5273

Via Electronic Submission
www.regulations.gov

Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry Products Containing
Added Solutions
(Docket No. FSIS–2010–0012)

Consumers Union [1],  the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports®, appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) proposed rule entitled, “Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry Products Containing  Added Solutions (Docket No. FSIS-2010-0012).”  The rule would amend FSIS regulations to establish a common or usual name for raw meat and poultry products that do not meet standard of identity regulations and to which solutions have been added.

Consumers Union (CU) agrees with FSIS that current labels for meat and poultry products containing added solutions are misleading to consumers, and we support the agency’s proposal to include added solution ingredients in the common or usual name for raw meat and poultry products.

As noted in the proposed rule, under FSIS’s current regulatory approach, raw products that contain added solution and products that do not contain added solution may have the same product name. For example, the name for a single-ingredient chicken breast and a chicken breast with added solution is “chicken breast,” even though one is 100 percent chicken breast and one may be 60 percent chicken breast and 40 percent solution. As a result, when purchasing raw meat, consumers cannot know how much of the product is actual meat and how much is added solution.

Added solutions also tend to be extremely high in sodium. The Truthful Labeling Coalition petition revealed that a product with added solutions contained eight times more sodium than a product without added solutions.  This finding is particularly troubling in light of the health risks associated with high-sodium diet. These include not only increases in the risk of high blood pressure–and subsequent heart attack, kidney disease, and stroke–but possibly also osteoporosis and kidney stones, stomach cancer, and asthma. Consumer Reports® notes that the average American consumes nearly twice the recommended maximum of sodium every day.  Reducing sodium intake, however, is difficult for most consumers because fully three-quarters of the salt we eat comes from processed, packaged, and prepared foods.  In order to keep sodium content low, consumers must be told whether the solutions added to their raw meat contain salt.

As a result, we support FSIS’s proposal that the common or usual name for products containing added solutions should include a description of the raw meat or poultry component, the percentage of solution added to the raw meat, and a list of the ingredients included in the added solution in order of predominance by weight. This information will help consumers make more informed purchasing and dietary decisions vis-à-vis raw meat and poultry.

We  agree with the FSIS not allowing the use of the word “enhanced” in the common or usual name for products containing added solutions for the reason that FSIS notes: “FSIS did not select the alternative of proposing to require the word “enhanced” in the product’s common or usual name because the word implies that the product is improved by the addition of the solution. The intent of this proposal is to increase transparency to consumers, not to suggest that the product is either better or worse than a raw product without the added solution.”   Furthermore, this word is misleading because it suggests that the meat has been improved through the use of added solutions when, in fact, it may actually be less healthy due to the presence of excessive levels of sodium. Consumers Union agrees with FSIS that a common or usual name include the word “contains.” This is a simple, straightforward way of telling consumers exactly which ingredients have been added to the raw meat, without implying a judgment about the value of the product.

In addition, we agree with FSIS’ proposal to require that the common or usual name of the product include:  an accurate description of the raw meat or poultry component (e.g. chicken breast, pork tenderloin); the percentage of the added solution using numerical representation and the percent symbol, “%”; and a listing of the ingredients in the solution in descending order of predominance by weight.  We also agree with FSIS that all the letters in the common or usual name of the product should be required to appear in a single font size, color, and style of print and appear on a single-color contrasting background, as opposed to the smaller type and differing style permitted for the qualifying statement.

However, we believe that FSIS’ proposal to allow the common or usual name of multi-ingredient component(s) in the product name does not sufficiently alert the consumer concerning the content of the added solution. Many consumers may not be aware that soy sauce contains a lot of salt or that teriyaki sauce contains both soy sauce and added salt.  FSIS’ proposal that when the common or usual name includes  multi-ingredient components, all the ingredients in the product be required to be declared in a separate ingredient statement on the label would allow consumers access to this information.  However, the separate ingredient statement would be in a smaller type and differing style than the common or usual name and so will not be as easy to see as the product name.  While we understand FSIS’ reasoning that allowing the use of the common or usual names of applicable multi-ingredient components, rather than the components’ individual ingredients, in the product name would simplify the product name, we believe that the agency should require that the product name for raw products list each individual ingredient in the added solution. Although this will make the raw product name longer and more complicated, it will ensure that all the ingredients in the multi-ingredient component will be listed in the larger, more easily read format of the product label compared to a separate ingredient list. In order to make informed choices about the healthfulness of a product, consumer must know exactly what ingredients that product contains, and having all the ingredients in the multi-ingredient components listed on the main product label, rather than in an ingredient statement, will allow consumers better access to this information.

While this FSIS proposal only refers to raw products that contain added solutions, we believe that FSIS should establish a common or usual name for a non-standardized fully cooked or partially-heated treated products that contain added solutions.  While consumers may not be mislead into thinking that a partially-heated treated product that contains added solution (such as the example cited by FSIS—a raw chicken strip with an added solution that is breaded, and then immersed in hot oil to set the breading) is a single-ingredient product, the consumer will not be aware that a solution was added that could make up a significant portion of the product weight.  Furthermore, the consumer will not know what ingredients are part of the added solution, or that the product may contain significant quantities of salt.  In order to make informed choices about the healthfulness of a product, consumer must know exactly what ingredients that product contains.

In conclusion, Consumers Union is supportive of any agency action that would increase clarity of product labels for both raw products with added solutions as well as for non-standardized fully cooked or partially-heated treated products that contain added solutions and help consumers more readily understand what they are buying and consuming. We encourage the agency to ensure that all of these labels are conspicuous and easy to read.

In addition, we would suggest that FSIS prohibit companies from labeling meat containing added solutions such as saltwater or brine as “natural.” This descriptor implies that products have not been altered or enhanced in any way. Allowing companies to label as “natural” a meat product containing added solutions is inherently misleading to consumers.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important rulemaking. Please contact me at (202) 462-6262 with any questions or concerns.

Regards,

Michael Hansen, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Consumers Union

Ioana Rusu
Regulatory Counsel
Consumers Union

[1] Consumers Union of United States, Inc.,  publisher of Consumer Reports©, is a nonprofit membership organization chartered in 1936 to provide consumers with information, education, and counsel about goods, services, health and personal finance. Consumers Union’s publications and services have a combined paid circulation of approximately 8.3 million. These publications regularly carry articles on Consumers Union’s own product testing; on health, product safety, and market place economics; and on legislative, judicial, and regulatory actions that affect consumer welfare. Consumers Union’s income is solely derived from the sale of Consumer Reports©, its other publications and services, fees, noncommercial contributions and grants. Consumers Union’s publications and services carry no outside advertising and receive no commercial support.

[2] “Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry Products Containing Added Solutions,” Docket No. FSIS–2010–0012, 76 Fed. Reg. 44855, 44857 (July 27, 2011).

[3] “Shaking salt and sugar from your diet,” January 2008. Available on the Web at: <http://www.consumerreports.org/health/healthy-living/diet-nutrition/diets-dieting/shaking-salt-and-sugar-from-your-diet-1-08/overview/salt-and-sugar-ov.htm>.

[4] Id.

[5] “Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry Products Containing Added Solutions,” Docket No. FSIS–2010–0012, 76 Fed. Reg. 44855, 44858 (July 27, 2011).