The agency also anticipates finalizing within the next year a proposed rule to modernize the Nutrition Facts panel for meat and poultry products, said Jeff Canavan, USDA deputy director of Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Labeling and Program Delivery Division.

Speaking at Prime Label Consultants’ 2024 Food Label Conference in Washington this month, Canavan also offered compliance guidance for the voluntary US origin claims final rule published in March, which goes into effect in January 2026.

Tighter restrictions of uncured labeling address new technology

Acknowledging that USDA’s regulations of uncured products, including when products can make a “No Nitrate or Nitrate Added” claim, “are fairly dated,” Canavan said the agency is developing a proposed rule that should be published “if not this year, then early next year.”

He explained the proposed rule will address concerns raised by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a 2019 petition requesting FSIS prohibit the use of “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” and “Uncured” on processed products using any source of nitrate and nitrate, including non-synthetic sources, such as celery or cherry powder.

FSIS previously​ signaled it would partially grant CSPI’s petition by amending the definition of “cured” and “uncured,” and to approve non-synthetic sources of nitrate as curing agents.

Canavan explained the agency is grappling with “a whole different technological setting” from when the first regulations were published so that now companies using natural curing agents are resulting in finished products with similar levels of nitrate and nitrite as those that use synthetic curing agents.

CSPI argues loopholes in the current regulations that allow naturally cured products to claim “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” or “Uncured” could mislead consumers into thinking the products are healthier for them and have lower levels of nitrates or nitrites, which have been linked to some ailments.

“We are trying to conduct rulemaking for this to bring our regulations up to speed with the technologies and how do we label these products, whether they have been cured with synthetic curing agents or with nitrates and nitrites from naturally occurring sources, like cherry powder or celery powder,” Canavan said.

Cell-cultured labeling proposed rule on horizon

USDA also anticipates publishing “later this year” a proposed rule for labeling cell cultured meat and poultry, oversight of which it shares with FDA, Canavan said.

“We are jointly regulating these products with FDA,” which oversees the biopsy and collection of cells from animals, the generation of the cell bank and the scale up and propagation of cells in a controlled environment, he explained. “The actual harvesting is where it transitions over to the FSIS jurisdiction and we have the harvesting, processing and then the packaging and labeling.”

In September 2021, USDA published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking requesting comments about the labeling of meat and poultry products comprised of or containing cultured cells from animals, and how they should be identified.

In response, USDA received 1,154 comments, including a general consensus that the name of a cell-cultured meat or poultry food should differentiate it from conventional meat or poultry by informing consumers it was made using animal cell culture technology, Canavan said.

He also noted that “cell-cultured” was the name most suggested by commenters overall, but that those in the cell-cultured industry preferred the term “cultivated” and those in the conventional foods industry preferred “lab-grown.”

“Our takeaway was that at this point, it appears that ‘cell-cultured’ or ‘cultivated’ would be terms that would generally be accepted by all parties,” he added.

He also noted that of the labels for cell-cultured products that USDA has approved so far, some basic requirements including using the terms “cell-cultured” or “cell-cultivated,” which must be the same size, color and style font as the rest of the product name. The product name must be a single-color on contrasting background and the full product name must appear in the principle display panel and in the ingredients statement.

Nutrition Facts labeling will ‘mirror FDA requirements’

Updated Nutrition Facts labeling “is another one that has been in the works for a while,” which USDA plans to publish “later this year or early next year,” Canavan said.

“We have been working closely with FDA on the development of our proposed rule,” and anticipate it will “mirror FDA requirements,” he added.

USDA proposed in 2017 a rule to modernize the Nutrition Facts panel and combine meat and poultry regulations. Until FSIS publishes a final rule, Canavan said, meat and poultry product labels may continue to use the original nutrition regulations or voluntarily use the new FDA format.



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