Meat processors who brushed up on the latest labeling guidelines at the International Production & Processing Expo learned details about when bioengineered logos might be needed and how FDA’s nutritional panel updates might trickle over to their products.

At the Meat and Poultry Labeling Workshop, Veronica Colas, senior associate at Hogan Lovells US, reviewed FDA’s major labeling priorities, many of which FSIS likely will adopt eventually in similar formats. Colas counsels clients on labeling and advertising regulations, helping companies develop new products, label claims and advertising materials.

Here is a sampling of her insights from the seminar in Atlanta sponsored by the North American Meat Institute:

Getting your nutrition facts panels in order

  • Many products have new serving sizes, and more products are labeled as single servings to better reflect how much people eat. Promoting healthier eating is behind the two-column design: Text showing calories is bigger to get attention, and one side tells you how much fat, sugar, calories, etc. you’ll get if you eat the whole giant muffin or bag of chips.
  • The new format takes up more space, so producers should work early to figure out how to accommodate the size on labels.
  • Daily values have been updated for almost every nutrient, which will affect claim criteria. “For instance, if you want to make a good source of fiber claim, the daily value for fiber has gone up. So now you have to have more fiber to meet the same criteria,” Colas says.
  • Potassium and vitamin D replace vitamins A and C as mandatory. People aren’t getting enough of the first two, and they’re now considered a public health concern. Note that many databases have not typically included some of the new needed information, such as potassium, so check early.
  • Fiber’s definition is stricter. It includes fibers “intrinsic or intact in plants,” such as brans and resistant starch in flaked corn cereal; isolated or synthetic fibers that FDA says benefit health; and many nondigestible carbohydrates. “The only types of fiber that count as dietary fiber on the nutrition facts panel are those that have some health benefit,” Colas says.
  • Added sugars, noted on the new labels, generally include these forms: free, mono- and disaccharides; syrups and honeys; and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that exceed the amount of sugar in the nonconcentrated form. Added sugars are documented based on companies’ records, not testing.
  • The compliance dates (Jan. 1, 2020, for large manufacturers and a year later for those under $10 million in annual sales) apply to products labeled on or after the start date.
  • FSIS has yet to finalize its 2017 proposed nutrition facts panel that is largely consistent with FDA’s rule. In the interim, FSIS says producers may use the newer FDA format or the existing USDA version.

How low can sodium go?

FDA leadership intends to move forward with voluntary targets proposed in 2016 draft guidance for reduction sodium in food by about a third over 10 years, Colas says. For example, the agency’s goal for breaded or battered bone-in poultry (e.g., breaded chicken wings) is a reduction from 599 mg per 100 grams to 380 mg. That includes products in sauce.

The definition of healthy

FDA defined the term using specified levels for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and nutrients. The regulation (21 CFR 101.65(d)) only applies to claims connected to a statement about a nutrient. Colas gave this example: “healthy, contains 3 grams of fat.”

FDA is considering revising the definition to reflect updated nutrition science and to address some foods that people feel merit the healthy designation, such as nut-based bars that are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, Colas notes. FSIS also has defined healthy for meat and poultry.

When is meat bioengineered?

Trevor Findley, deputy director, food disclosure and labeling division, Agricultural Marketing Service, reviewed the USDA bioengineered food disclosure standard, reminding producers that meat is not subject to bioengineered labeling requirements, and neither are multi-ingredient products with meat as the second ingredient after broth or water.

Processors wondered whether labels for chicken that is not subject to the disclosure can say the meat is GMO-free. Findley says the bioengineered standard regulates presence claims or affirmative claims. Absence claims are still regulated by FSIS and FDA, and the guideline against “false and misleading” is still the standard.

“This standard has nothing to do with non-GMO claims,” Findley says. “So if you want to put a non-GMO or put a non-GMO feed (claim), that’s subject to regulations under FDA and FSIS.”

When meat is the third or later listed ingredient in a soup, for example, the bioengineered standard applies. For those products, processors were interested in guidance on whether the labels had to include one of the new bioengineered logos if the meat has an ingredient, such as modified cornstarch, that was a GMO, even though the meat product itself would not be subject to the bioengineered standard, as USDA product going to an FDA facility.

Even for additives, Findley says meat producers would need to share records for ingredients that show whether they’re bioengineered.