U.S. Beef Processors Offering Temporary Beef Labeling Program for South Korea

The concerns of some South Korean consumers have spurred U.S. beef processors Tyson Foods, Inc.; JBS Swift & Co.; Cargill Meat Solutions Corp.; National Beef Packing Co.; and Smithfield Beef Group, Inc. to offer to implement a voluntary temporary labeling program to help ensure the reopening of the South Korea market and allay consumer doubts there regarding the safety of U.S. beef.

The companies say that they're willing to place special labels on boxes of beef shipped to South Korea. The labels, which would be used for up to 120 days, would indicate whether the product is from cattle under 30 months, or from cattle 30 months of age and over. It would then be left to South Korean customers to decide which product they want to buy.

Most product shipped by these processors is from cattle under 30 months of age. All of the companies have previously exported product to South Korea. All U.S. beef processors may also offer product under the same conditions, according to the companies.

In other Tyson news, citing uncertainty and controversy over product labeling regulations and advertising claims, the company has notified USDA it's voluntarily pulling its qualified Raised Without Antibiotics chicken label. Additionally, Tyson officials have asked the agency to consider introducing a public process to clarify and make more consistent labeling and advertising rules on antibiotic-related product claims, as well as all raising claims in general.

"We still support the idea of marketing chicken raised without antibiotics because we know it's what most consumers want," noted Dave Hogberg, s.v.p. of consumer products for Tyson Foods. "However, in order to preserve the integrity of our label and our reputation as a premier company in the food industry, we believe there needs to be more specific labeling and advertising protocols developed to ensure the rules are clear and application of the rules is equitable."

In May 2007 USDA approved the Raised Without Antibiotic chicken label application, which noted Tyson's chicken feed ingredients include commonly used antimicrobials known as ionophores. However, agency officials reversed their position that fall, saying that some organizations have narrowly classified ionophores as antibiotics, though they're not used in human medicine. In December 2007 the USDA approved a new label and subsequently issued industry guidelines for the claim "Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics That Impact Antibiotic Resistance in Humans."

The original label, the revised label, and all supporting advertising and marketing materials have become the subject of a lawsuit by two competitors, a petition to USDA by three competitors, and a class action filed on behalf of consumeres.
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