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USDA extends labeling deadline at AFFI recommendation.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Edward Madigan announced in March that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow an additional one-year implementation period for regulations mandating nutrition labeling of meat and poultry products.

The implementation date of the labeling requirement will be changed from May 1993 to May 1994, or 18 months following publication of the final regulations.

The action was the result of the regulatory reviewed ordered by President Bush in his January 28 State of the Union address. AFFI had called for the extension of the implementation period in comments from AFFI President Steven C. Anderson to Vice President Dan Quayle at the initiation of the Bush Administration's 90-day review of existing and pending regulations. President Bush charged Quayle with the authority for coordinating the regulatory review.

USDA cost estimates indicate that today's announcement of the additional one-year implementation period should lower industry's costs of compliance by nearly 30 percent. USDA estimates this action will reduce costs by an estimated $210 million. AFFI feels the figure is very low.

Secretary Madigan also announced that USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service will propose exempting small businesses from the labeling requirement, and permitting use of database values in establishing nutritional content instead of requiring individual laboratory analysis for each product. USDA estimates that these change will save an estimated $650 million.

Madigan also announced that FSIS is proposing to modify the prior label approval process and is offering two options for comment. One option would expand the number of products for which generic prior approval would be used. Generic approval consists of FSIS-issued standards that processing plants must meet. Under this first option, the Food Labeling Division would approve only sketch labels, and generic approval would apply to certain labeling, such as for those which a standard of identity exists.

Under the second option, all labels would be the subject to generic approval standards, and the Food Labeling Division would not review any label applications. However, randomly selected labels would be reviewed to ensure compliance.

These and other actions called for by Madigan were, as he put it, "USDA's first steps to meet the goals of the President's order. I am announcing 13 steps to ease or modify key regulatory burdens that could reduce the drag on the economy by $1 billion. This package is designed to cut costs, reduce paperwork, streamline rules, encourage economic growth and make programs easier to use."

Consumer Groups Sue FDA

Two consumer groups - the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Public Citizen - filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) charging that the agency's voluntary labeling regulation for fresh fish and produce in supermarkets is too weak and a violation of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.

The FDA regulation exempts at least 40 percent of the retail grocery industry from the voluntary program, according to the consumer groups. The suit states that the law requires that if a "significant number" of grocery retailers fail to comply with FDA guidelines for a voluntary program, then FDA must institute a mandatory program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a similar program for meat and poultry.

"Clearly, 40 percent noncompliance greatly exceeds the law's |significant number' standard, and it makes a mockery of Congress' intent to make sure that consumers are informed," said Brian Wolfman, an attorney with Public Citizen.

FDA was planning mandatory disclosure requirements unless at least 80 percent of grocery chain stores and 50 percent of independent stores complied with its voluntary program, but backed down under pressure from the Office of Management and Budget.

Industry Opposes User Fees for Meat

and Poultry Inspection

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Edward R. Madigan, AFFI and 39 other food industry groups opposed the imposition of meat and poultry inspection user fees being sought by the Office of Management and budget (OMB). The user fees which may be proposed would be a part of the administrations fiscal year 1993 budget not yet finalized.

"Meat and poultry inspection, required by statute, is a public health program to protect American consumers," the letter stated. "As such, it should be paid for by public funds. Anything less will create misperceptions that are certain to erode its credibility among consumers."

Congress has repeatedly refused OMB requests for meat and poultry inspection user fees. AFFI has been successful in past efforts to delete such fees from the budget.

House Passes Metric Bill

The House of Representatives passed legislation that requires metric units to be the primary system for declaring the net quantity statement on labels.

This provision of the |92-|93 authorization bill (H.R. 1989) for the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Technology Administration of the Department of Commerce has been cleared for the president's signature.

The bill amends the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act and goes into effect two years after it becomes law. It is designed to help U.S. business with what has been viewed as a competitive disadvantage in international markets due to the current required declaration of measurement.
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Title Annotation:Department of Agriculture, American Frozen Food Institute, nutrition labeling of poultry and meat products
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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