Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Natural, What Does it Mean?

Term needs updating for food industry.

Natural: What's actually in the word?
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PST Wednesday, December 6, 2006

WASHINGTON-The Minnesota-based maker of Spam wants to freshen up the word "natural" on meat and poultry labels.

At the very least, Hormel Foods Corp. is reheating a controversy. The company wants tighter, more uniform labeling rules, and suggested that some firms may "manipulate exceptions" to the current requirements.

Other companies could oppose stricter guidelines. Potentially, producers, processors and consumers may all have to adjust to new meanings for a seemingly simple word.

"We certainly agree there needs to be more clarity when it comes to use of the word 'natural,' " said Bill Mattos, president of the Modesto-based California Poultry Federation. "The rules may need to be updated; they certainly don't need to be loosened."

On Tuesday, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced it would begin reconsidering the rules governing use of the word "natural." The current rules were set in 1982, prompting Hormel and Agriculture Department officials to wonder whether they needed updating in light of new technology.

"In recent years, the long-standing policy on 'natural' has been challenged by advances in food processing and in packaging methods," the Agriculture Department noted.