Companies pursue voluntary labeling of LFTB

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – Several unnamed US meat companies want to voluntarily place a new claim on their product labels that will allow them to clarify the use of lean finely textured beef (LFTB), a USDA spokesman told MEATPOULTRY.com.

“The US Department of Agriculture has received this type of application for the first time through the normal label-approval process and the department has determined that such requests will be approved,” he added. “By exercising this existing option, these companies can continue to provide a lean, safe and nutritious product to an informed customer base.”

In recent weeks, the use of and safety of LFTB in ground beef came under attack by a former USDA employee and others these unfounded charge were published by thousands of stories in the mainstream media. As a result of these erroneous charges, major supermarket chains and foodservice leaders stopped carrying or using ground beef containing LFTB—while some special interest groups among others have called for mandating the labeling of all ground beef containing LFTB.

However, labeling the presence of LFTB has been an industry option since it began being incorporated into ground beef products more than 10 years ago, USDA said. Doing this does not require a change in USDA regulations and it is not an exception.

However, a voluntary statement on a label indicating that ground beef product does or does not contain LFTB is considered a claim, the USDA spokesman clarifies. Under the regulation, FSIS is required to verify the accuracy of all label claims prior to their use by industry. This labeling option is similar to other commonly used claims, including labeling beef as being from Black Angus cows.

USDA explained that LFTB is not listed as an ingredient in ground beef because it is, itself, beef. However, a voluntary statement on a label indicating that ground beef product does or does not contain LFTB is considered a claim. Under the regulation, FSIS must verify the accuracy of all label claims prior to their use by industry.

Examples of the labels FSIS might be asked to approve include: Contains Lean Finely Textured Beef; Contains Finely Textured Beef; and Contains Lean Beef Derived from Beef Trimmings.

FSIS will verify whether products labeled as “contains LFTB” or not is true to its label. The agency verifies that products are not mislabeled, and it can verify whether product contains LFTB through reviewing documentation at processing facilities and by monitoring the production process, USDA said.

Last week, FSIS said it anticipated receiving LFTB label claim applications as early as March 30. “The agency does not anticipate any reasons to delay approval. Processors will soon begin incorporating these labels into their product packaging,” USDA said.

This is not the first time public concern has led to claims being labeled on ground-beef packages, USDA said. In addressing public concern about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) when it was first reported discovered in the US in December 2003, FSIS permitted labeling of whether products contained materials derived from advanced meat recovery (AMR) processes after the public indicated it was interested in knowing whether products they were purchasing contained beef made from that process.

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