USDA Will Prohibit the Statements “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” and “Uncured” on Products That Have Been Processed Using Any Source of Nitrates or Nitrites
Our blog discussed an August 29, 2019 petition submitted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumer Report asking USDA to stop requiring the terms “Uncured” and “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” on labels for meat processed with nitrates or nitrites from non-synthetic sources, such as celery powder, and to require that all products processed using nitrates/nitrites, from any source, bear the disclosure “Nitrates or nitrites added.” The petitioners asserted that labeling of processed meats as “Uncured” or “No Nitrates or Nitrites Added” is misleading, based on tests showing that nitrates and nitrites were found at similar levels in these products as those prepared with synthetic curing agents. The petitioners argued this misleading labeling could give consumers the false impression that meat processed with celery powder is a healthier alternative to meat processed with synthetic nitrates/nitrites.
CSPI recently posted a December 10, 2020 response letter from USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which partially granted their petition. Specifically, FSIS intends to conduct rulemaking to propose to prohibit the statements, “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” and “Uncured,” on products that have been processed using any source of nitrates or nitrites and to approve non-synthetic sources of nitrates or nitrites as curing agents. Rather than requiring disclosure statements about the use of nitrates or nitrites on labels of meat and poultry products, as requested in the petition, however, FSIS intends to propose to amend and clarify its meat and poultry labeling regulations to establish new definitions for “Cured” and “Uncured.”
The USDA/FSIS response letter states that details regarding changes to the labeling regulations will be included in a proposed rule, which is mentioned briefly in the Fall 2020 Regulatory Agenda, with a tentative publication date of May 2021.