US agencies propose changes to food labelling standards

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A public consultation to change or eliminate regulations on food
labelling, including the methods of processing and packaging used
by manufacturers, has been launched in the US by the three federal
agencies responsible for regulating the standards.

The proposed changesare in response to recent technological advances in the food industry and would also bring the USstandards into harmony with international standards, the agencies said in issuing an 85-pagedocument outlining the consultation process. Existing food standards may also prevent the foodindustry from production products with lower amounts of ingredients associated with health problems,such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, the US agriculture department's foodsafety and inspection service (FSIS) said. The FSIS, the health department and the Food and Drug Administration are responsible for foodsafety standards in the US. The public consultation would include consumers, consumer groups andindustry representatives. "These proposed changes to the food standards process will optimise useof new food processing and packaging technologies in the development of food products geared to theneeds of today's consumer," said Robert Brackett, the FDA's director of food safety and applied nutrition."Moreover, this is an excellentexample of the type of collaboration between the nation's food safety agencies that ensures theAmerican consumer safer, more diverse foods on the grocery shelves." The agencies are proposing to bring US standards into line with international food standards asmuch as possible. They would also promote simplicity, brevity and consistency in food standards. The agencies also state that any new rules resulting from the consultation would permit the maximum flexibility in thefood technology used to prepare food, so long as the technology does not alter the basic nature or essentialcharacteristics of the product or adversely affect the nutritional quality or safety of the food. "With the rising trend in globalisation and increased accessibility of US goods to other nations' markets, efforts to harmonise US foodstandards with international food standards will facilitate international trade and fostercompetition," the agencies state."Establishing regulations that do not stifle innovations in food technology and allow fortechnological alternatives and advancements in food processing would improve manufacturing efficiency and lessen costs which may be passed on to theconsumer. Improved technologies may additionally benefit product quality and diversity." Any proposed food standards should provide for any suitable, alternativemanufacturing process that accomplishes the desired effect and should describe ingredients as broadly and generically asfeasible, the agencies state in the document. Any food standard that includes a specificmanufacturing processes should allow for alternative procedures resulting in a food with the same physical, nutritional and sensory characteristics as the food made according to thetraditional procedure specified in existing food standards. For example the standards would permit flexibility in manufacturing processes to allow for any suitable procedure for removing glucose from dried eggs, for instant flours or for the low-temperature rendering of meat. Current labelling requirements may also impede technological innovation and prevent the productionof healthier food. For example the manufacturers of non-standardised foods are developing newingredients and plant varieties to alter the taste and aroma of a particular food, to change itsnutritional makeup or to extend its shelf life. "Incorporation of these advances into standardised foods may be difficult without the labouriousamendment of the relevant standard," the FSIS said. The proposed standards would prescribe the minimum amounts of certain ingredients, such asmeat or poultry or milk fat, the maximum fat and water contents, the methods of processing, cooking and preparation and the permitted optional safe ingredients contained in thefood. The agencies also hope to address the inconsistencies in standards for various meat products bybringing them into a form that could be better understood by consumers. For example the standard forfrankfurter, frank, furter, hotdog, weiner, vienna, bologna, garlic bologna, knockwurst and similarproducts describes the form of the product, the expected ingredients and the allowable meat andnon-meat ingredients and poultry products that can be used in these products. There are more standards for meat products than for poultry products because processed meatproducts have been in existence longer and have been consumed more widely than processed poultryproducts, the FSIS said. Although the authorised amount of fill has been set by various governmentagencies, the FSIS has not yet established any standards to fill in how the food should be theregulations. The FSIS and FDA share the responsibility for ensuring that food labels aretruthful and not misleading. The FSIS has authority to regulate the labeling for meat, poultry, andprocessed egg products while the FDA regulates the labeling of all other foods. Another problem to be addressed by the proposed regulations is the inconsistency between the useof descriptions for various food products by the three agencies. For example, the FSIS requires apoultry product labelled "(kind) a la Kiev" to be stuffed with butter, which may beseasoned. However, in the poultry products inspection regulations, the term "kind" refersto the type of poultry used, the FSIS said. The products inspection regulations also requires foodprocessors to stuff butter into the poultry. The proposed regulations would permit the use of lesser amounts of meat or poultry in a product,provided the label stated the percentage of the content in a particular product. It would alsoestablish a general standard of identifying food to allow for deviations from current ingredientrestrictions. The regulations would also amend the statutes to allow private organisations tocertify that food products meet consumer expectations. An alternative proposal made by the FDA would include revoking existing food standards andregulating all foods under the same method. The FDA's proposals would require products declare thepercentage of all major ingredients on the label, The deadline for comments on changing the food labelling standards is 19 August 2005.

Related topics: Ingredients