Consumers have a right to expect truthfulness in food labeling, and most of us are confident the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is protecting that right and watching out for us by requiring manufacturers not mislead us with their labeling. However, because of a loophole in the USDA’s regulations, some poultry manufacturers pump their fresh chicken with “sea salt,” seaweed extract, and other additives and label it as All Natural. Obviously, if consumers buy fresh chicken labeled as All Natural, and 5% of what they pay for and consume is water, sea salt, seaweed extract, and other additives, the labeling process is broken and must be fixed.
Some major chicken suppliers use a product label where the product is prominently labeled as "100% All Natural." However, in small type, just below the product name, is the phrase, "Enhanced with up to Fifteen Percent Natural Chicken Broth." "Chicken Broth" certainly sounds "Natural" but what does the phrase actually mean?
It means that the manufacturer has deliberately added to the chicken (by either needle injecting or a process called “vacuum tumbling”) a solution of saltwater, binding agents like seaweed extracts to facilitate the absorption of as much liquid as possible, and other ingredients such as starches and soy proteins. For this particular package, the solution accounts for up to 5% of the product’s weight. The label indicates that the weight of the product is .75 pounds. Given that 5% of the product is actually added solution, the consumer will pay chicken prices for— and consume —over a quarter pound of salt water and other additives. Other brands may add up to 30% by weight of salt water to poultry.
Consumers like us buy billions of dollars worth of fresh chicken each year because we believe it to be more healthy, less processed, and natural. However, some “natural” chicken products on grocery store shelves have been pumped up with additives such as sodium, water, carrageenan (seaweed extract), broth, and other ingredients. This pumped-up chicken can contain up to 822% more sodium per serving than truly natural chicken. In addition, as the chart to the right shows, it even has more sodium than many foods we generally think of as being unhealthy.
As consumers, we’ve continued to pay more each year as the practice of pumping-up chicken has escalated. Ten years ago, only a tiny percentage of fresh poultry sold in the U.S. was pumped up with added saltwater. Two years ago, that number had grown to about 20% of all fresh poultry sold. It is estimated now that almost 30% is being "pumped-up."
It is time for the USDA to change their policy by removing "Natural" from the labels of pumped up fresh chicken products and by requiring chicken producers to identify all added ingredients in BOLD print to ensure consumers can make informed choices.
American consumers deserve better. The USDA has to end deceptive labeling so consumers can make informed choices about paying chicken prices for saltwater and other additives.