In November, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service published a final rule relating to generic labeling of meat and poultry products regulated by the USDA. Unlike labeling for food regulated by FDA, labeling for meat and poultry products regulated by the USDA has historically been reviewed and approved by USDA. This rule, which will be effective on January 6, 2014, was designed to provide generic approval for certain types of labeling. Once effective, only certain types of labeling will need to be submitted to FSIS for evaluation and approval. These types of labeling are: (1) temporary approvals; (2) labels for export only that bear labeling deviations; (3) religious exemption labeling; and (4) labels bearing special statements and claims. Special statements and claims that must be reviewed include third party certifications, animal production claims (e.g., relating to use or non-use of certain foods, hormones or antibiotics), breed claims, certified claims, gluten free claims, health or implied or undefined nutrition claims, natural or organic claims, negative or free claims (e.g., GMO-free, no MSG) and many others. For a more complete list of claims that must be approved, see this site.
FSIS also identified certain generic claims that do not need to be submitted for review and approval, which list includes “all, 100% or pure,” allergen content claims, AMS grading, geographic claims such as Made in USA, flavor profiles (e.g., Made with only white meat), green or environmental claims, Kosher or Halal, defined nutrition claims, and hand- claims (e.g., handmade, hand-pulled). A copy of this list, which FSIS intends to update as needed, can be found here. Should a producer want to submit labels with generic claims for review and approval, it may do so but such labels will not be prioritized and will take longer to review.
In the end, this rule should provide increased flexibility and agility with respect to introduction of products and label changes making non-controversial claims. It may eliminate a litigation defense of prior approval by FSIS for certain labels, but given that most labeling litigation centers around the special statements and claims that must still be reviewed, the impact of losing that defense is minimized.