January 28, 2011


USDA to implement new chicken labelling rule by 2012



USDA will require certain poultry products to provide nutrition information on the package or available at the point-of-purchase, which will take effect beginning January 1, 2012.


The agency is fast-tracking the new rule-it didn't appear in the Federal Register until December 29, 2010.


"More and more busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.


"All of this is kind of out of the blue," said Byron Williams, with Mississippi State University's Department of Extension Service.


He said to have a rule published in the Federal Register and become effective within one year from date of publication is unusual.


There are exemptions for producers of ground poultry. If a facility produces less than 100,000 pounds of ground meat or poultry products annually and has less than 500 employees the facility is not required to provide nutrition information.


However, ground poultry is not a major product of Mississippi processors. This means practically all Mississippi poultry plants will be required to meet the new labelling requirement.


In its supplemental proposed rule, USDA said it was not offering the exemption to all small poultry processors because the requirements should not impose an economic hardship on small businesses.


The USDA has calculated the cost of the new nutrition labelling requirement at approximately US$150 million over a 20-year period.


Williams said he wonders how the USDA arrived at that figure considering the vagueness of the new rule.


Mark Leggett, president of the Mississippi Poultry Association in Jackson, agrees. He doesn't think the new labelling rule will be a huge cost for the local poultry industry, pointing out that processors already have labels. The processors will simply have to add the new information to the labels.


"There are a lot of questions and uncertainty about this whole thing. We are seeing fuel and grain costs rise. Perhaps the biggest concern in 2011 is rising input costs. We don't need any extra expenses," Leggett said.


Ultimately, it will be the consumer who foots the bill for the new labelling requirement. The poultry industry has fared well during the down-turned economy.


Processors can elect to use the pre-calculated nutrition panels, saving them the expense of having to test and identify a product's nutritional information. But they are allowed to use their own numbers. However, there are USDA requirements to assure the data are accurate. If the data are inaccurate, the processor runs the risk of penalties.


The new requirement is not being completely panned by the industry. The poultry industry has long promoted its products' healthiness compared to other meats.


The rule is especially targeting ground products, whose leanness is hard to gauge by sight.


US Senator Thad Cochran, who serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the new Congress will take a hard look at the proposed rule.


Poultry has been the state's leading agriculture commodity for the last 14 consecutive years. Last year, the industry's value was estimated at US$2.5 billion.

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