Being health conscious, you’ve probably already cut down on eating beef and are eating more chicken. But is that chicken you’re eating really a natural food? This is the question being posed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Is chicken injected with salt, water and other ingredients really “natural”? The unsettled answer has prompted federal officials to consider changing labeling guidelines.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates food labeling and until now has maintained that if chicken wasn't flavored artificially or preserved with chemicals, it could carry the word "natural" on the package. So why is the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Department planning to issue new proposed rules?
There has been a wave of input from some producers, politicians and health advocates. They contend that about one-third of chicken sold in the U.S. is injected with additives. With this additional salt, water and other ingredients it increases the meat’s weight by 15 percent. This means that the chicken’s sodium content is double or triple what it would be naturally.
A recent AP article states that “Perdue, the nation's third largest poultry producer, is among those pushing for a change. The company has joined a group called the Truthful Labeling Coalition, which has hired a lobbyist and launched an advertising campaign.
"Our labels say natural or all natural only if there is nothing added," Perdue spokesman Luis Luna said. "Under no circumstances is it acceptable to label poultry that has been enhanced with water or broth or solutions as natural, or all natural."
This practice of injecting chicken has become more practice than exception in recent years. So, it’s an important question to consider for the health conscious and the savvy consumer.
Tyson Chicken’s spokesperson Gary Mickelson contends that consumers don’t mind that these added ingredients are added to “natural” labeled food as long as it is disclosed. And, Pilgrim’s Pride spokesperson, Gary Rhodes said that his company just wants to offer a choice to the consumer. He says, “we offer both 100 percent natural enhanced and non-enhanced fresh chicken. It really depends on what the customer wants. It's all about choice."
California Poultry Federation argued that consumers are confused about labeling and that the industry needs to work hard to clear up that confusion. "With all the talk about food now, all the interest in salt, the chicken industry needs to be very upfront about these issues, and be very truthful," said Bill Mattos, federation president.
If people are buying what they consider to be fresh, unprocessed food it’s likely that they do not know about additives. People with a history of high blood pressure could really suffer if they do not pay attention to this unwitting source of high salt intake.
Given that many people buy because of price, that additional 15 percent of weight makes you think about whether or not you’re really getting what you pay for.
What do you think? Should USDA be tougher on the use of “natural” in labeling?