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Meaning of 'Natural' Chicken Debated

by 5m Editor
4 August 2010, at 12:31p.m.

US - The USDA is to re-consider whether chicken injected with water and salt may continue to carry the 'natural' label.

Recent developments have re-fuelled a long-running debate in the US over the meaning on the term 'natural' as it relates to the labelling of chicken.

According to the USDA, chicken that has not been flavoured artificially or preserved with chemicals may carry the word 'natural' on the package. So chicken injected with salt, water and certain other ingredients to make the meat tastier and more tender may be promoted as 'natural' from the legal standpoint.

However, its Food Safety and Inspection Service plans to issue new proposed rules in the coming months after a number of poultry producers, politicians and health experts noted that about one-third of chicken sold in the US is injected with additives that could represent up to 15 per cent of the meat's weight, while also doubling or tripling its sodium content. It has been argued that this misleads consumers, and a growing level of obesity has focussed attention on the need to reduce salt and sodium intakes.

Among those pushing for a change to the law is Perdue, the nation's third largest poultry producer. It has joined a group called the Truthful Labeling Coalition, which has hired a lobbyist and launched an advertising campaign. Perdue's product labels use the terms 'natural' or 'all natural' only if nothing is added.

Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson Foods, however, are among those that use 'natural' labels to chicken injected with salt and water, which has become common practice in the industry in recent years.

This issue has returned to the limelight since the publication of a paper recently in New England Journal of Medicine by Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

There, the author reports that regulations aimed at cutting back sodium intake of Americans could save between $10 and $24 billion in health care costs as well as thousands of lives every year.