October 10, 2013
American Meat Institute seeks withdrawal of mechanically tenderised beef labelling rule
The American Meat Institute (AMI) has recommended the withdrawal of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed rule, Descriptive Designation for Needle- or Blade-Tenderised Beef Products.
That recommendation was submitted as part of AMI's comments on the proposed rule.
"The existing labelling scheme for products that have been needle injected or blade tenderised, with appropriate qualifying statements or other label information, provides open and transparent information based on recognisable common and usual product names and should be kept," the comments say.
The comments highlight the safety record of mechanically tenderised (MT) products, as well the proposed rule's potential to confuse consumers by changing the product name to include the mechanically tenderised distinction. Instead, AMI recommended that FSIS focus on encouraging industry to use prevention technologies and Good Manufacturing Practices to render MT products as safe as possible. The comments also encouraged FSIS to examine the effectiveness of current safe handling labels to better inform consumers.
AMI's comments cite risk assessments done by FSIS in 2002, and updated in 2010, and by Canadian researchers in 2013 that showed little difference in the safety of MT products compared to intact beef. The comments also assert that since the last foodborne illness outbreak attributed to MT beef in 2009, the industry has taken several steps to improve product safety.
AMI argues that the rule's requirement to include the term "mechanically tenderised" in the product name does not offer a food safety benefit and will only confuse consumers. It cites labelling requirements such as safe handling instructions and allergen labelling as examples of providing valuable food safety information on a package's other than in the product's name.
"Conveying the fact that a product has been subject to mechanical tenderisation and therefore consumers should prepare the product differently than if it is intact can be accomplished just as easily through means other than requiring that term's inclusion in the product name. Meat and poultry labels are replete with useful and often necessary information that is found on a product's labelling, either on the Principal Display Panel or elsewhere."
The comments also recommend that, rather than requiring validated cooking instructions that might not fit how consumers like to cook a product, FSIS should review the effectiveness of the safe handling instructions with the goal of improving consumer handling and preparation of meat and poultry products.