Shopper At Meat Case

USDA and FDA Propose Rule Changes on Meats, Milk and Sodium

April 18, 2023
USDA focuses on the ‘Made in USA’ label claim, FDA on sodium substitutes and milk.

As the first quarter of 2023 drew to a close, both the FDA and USDA were busy proposing new rules that affect labeling and formulation of products.

Proposed Labeling Changes

The Dept. of Agriculture in March said it plans to change how meat, poultry and egg products use “Product of USA” labeling. Current labeling is misleading to consumers, according to the agency.

A voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim could be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the U.S. The new regulatory requirements would align the label claims with what consumers actually understand the claim to mean, the agency says.

Under current rules, meat can be labeled Product of USA as long as it is merely processed here — including when meat is raised overseas and then merely processed into cuts of meat here. “We believe this could make it hard for American consumers to know what they are getting,” said a 2022 fact sheet explaining “The Biden-⁠Harris Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain.”

That plan spelled out a number of goals to help smaller meat and poultry processors compete in the face of what the administration felt was too much concentration in those categories.

In July 2021, USDA surveyed what the Product of USA claim meant to consumers and concluded current rules and usage are misleading to a majority of consumers.

Under the proposed rule, the Product of USA label claim would continue to be voluntary. It would also remain eligible for generic label approval, meaning it would not need to be pre-approved by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service before it could be used on regulated product, but would require supporting documentation to be on file for agency inspection personnel to verify.

Proposed Formulation Changes

The FDA made two proposed rule changes, one involving salt substitutes in food and the other how to label plant-based milks.

After promoting sodium reduction to the public for decades, the FDA in March 24 proposed changes to the standards of identity for foods that include salt to permit the use of salt substitutes.

The proposed rule would provide flexibility to product developers working with products that are regulated by a standard of identity (SOI) rule. For some foods, SOIs require certain ingredients in the formulation; therefore, removing salt in favor of a salt substitute, despite being positive, would be illegal.

There are more than 250 SOI foods, including milk, milk chocolate, various breads, various cheeses and ketchup. 80 of them specify salt as a required or an optional ingredient, and these 80 SOIs are referenced in 140 other SOI foods.

The proposed rule does not list permitted salt substitutes but requires them to be “safe and suitable ingredients.” Potassium chloride is an often-used substitute, but there are others. The agency also acknowledges the functional nature of salt: “The extent to which salt can be replaced depends on the ability of salt substitutes to replace the functions of salt in food without compromising the food safety or other essential characteristics of the food.”

For nondairy milks, the agency at the end of February issued a draft guidance on how marketers should label plant-based milk alternatives. Basically, if you use the term “milk” to describe your product, as in oat milk, you should compare it nutritionally to milk.

Also basically, the agency acknowledges these plant-based beverages have not created any confusion among consumers who may think they are drinking a dairy product.

“The FDA recommends that PBMA [plant-based milk alternative] products that are labeled with the term ‘milk’ in their names, such as soy milk or almond milk, and that have a nutrient composition that is different than milk, include a voluntary nutrient statement that conveys how the product compares with milk based on USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria,” the announcement said.

“If a PBMA is not labeled with ‘milk’ as part of its name, but instead is labeled with another term like ‘beverage’ or ‘drink’ and does not make a claim comparing the product to milk, then the voluntary nutrient statement recommendations in the draft guidance do not apply.”

In 2018 the FDA started soliciting comments from the public on how consumers use PBMA products and how they understand the term “milk” when included in those names. The agency received more than 13,000 comments.

“After reviewing these comments and conducting focus group studies with consumers, the FDA determined that consumers generally understand that PBMA do not contain milk and choose PBMA because they are not milk,” the statement continued.

“However, many consumers may not be aware of the nutritional differences between milk and PBMA products. For example, almond or oat-based PBMA products may contain some calcium and be consumed as a source of calcium, but their overall nutritional content is not similar to milk.”

All three of these rules are still in the proposal stages, so there may be time to comment on them.

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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