Can chicken injected with up to 15 percent salt water and seaweed extract be packaged with a "100 percent all natural" label?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the salt water and seaweed are natural. Injecting natural products into another natural product is not unnatural, the USDA says.
However, the USDA policy has divided the poultry industry and united a coalition asking the federal government to redefine its diluted version of "natural."
Widely touted as affordable, healthy and natural, chicken is a favorite choice for Americans who consume on average 86 pounds annually.
But those Arkansas consumers might be surprised to know that chicken labeled "natural" could be injected with up to 15 percent salt water. It could contain carrageenan, a seaweed extract that allows the chicken to hold on to the salt and water during processing.
Also, the fine print on the back of a chicken package labeled "100 percent all natural" could show that the chicken contains up to seven times the extra salt of nonenhanced varieties. The extra solution, some critics argue, also costs Americans up to $2 billion in extra weight charges.
Despite the fact that Arkansas is home to many chicken processing companies, consumers don't always have a lot of choices when shopping for chicken.
Tyson Foods' brand is most commonly found at area retailers and sometimes is the only brand offered. The company processes and packages both the "enhanced" chicken along with lower-sodium poultry cuts for its wholesale customers.
Consumers who shop for fresh chicken at many Wal-Mart stores are limited to Tyson Foods' "100 percent all-natural" product that is enhanced with up to 15 percent chicken broth. Consumers must read the tiny print on the back of the package to see that the chicken also contains chicken broth, sea salt and natural flavorings.
A similar looking package of Tyson Foods' fresh chicken touting the 100 percent all-natural label found at Northwest Arkansas' Harp's Food Stores bears the disclosure of only 3 percent added solution. This product lies in the meat case beside the Smart Chicken brand labeled "no added water." Smart Chicken is produced by MBA Poultry based in Tecumseh, Neb.
A promise the Springdale-based Harp's Foods makes to its customers is to include fresh meat choices with no solution added.
Officials with Springdale-based Tyson Foods said it is not uncommon for retailers to carry only one brand and many consumers prefer the "enhanced" variety because of its added tenderness.
"We had a similar situation in our retail stores on the West Coast, until consumers pressured Wal-Mart and other retailers to carry the healthier alternative because it is readily available," said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation.
For more: http://www.nwaonline.net/articles/2007/07/28/business/072907bizchickenlabels.txt
Wal-Mart Deceiving Consumers with "All Natural" Label on Chicken Injected with Salt & Water
Producers, Consumer Groups Debate 'Natural' Definition
By Kim Souza
The Morning News - AR, July 28, 2007
Straight to the Source