Meat inspection regulations released by USDA help ensure more equity "in the differences between meat and poultry processing and (provide) more information to consumers, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association says. USDA's final rule on "added water" bases inspection standards on science and reduces inequities between meat and poultry processing that have existed for more than 40 years, said George Hall, NCBA president and a cattle producer from Mustang, Okla.

NCBA has aggressively lobbied USDA to eliminate the provision in its regulations governing "added water" that allow poultry to have up to 8 percent added water weight while posing a zero-added water standard for beef. The new rule mandates zero added water for all poultry and meat products unless the products are labeled so consumers know how much water they are purchasing.

The final regulation follows a standard set by a 1997 federal court decision. NCBA contributed financial resources to the 1997 lawsuit, Kenney v. Glickman, brought by Iowa producers. A federal judge in that case ruled the poultry regulations on added water are based on "arbitrary and capricious" standards.

The National Pork Producers Council, along with the American Sheep Industry, joined with NCBA in the 1996 petition to USDA.

On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced the new requirement, intended to improve the safety of raw meat and poultry products. The new rule requires processors to justify any retained water in raw products as an unavoidable consequence of their process used to meet food safety requirements.

Poultry processors will be required to list clearly either the percentage of retained water or the maximum percentage of absorbed water on each product label. Processors that demonstrate there is no retained water in their products may choose not to label their product with a retained-water statement or to make a no-retained-water claim on the product.

This final rule takes effect one year after the Jan. 9, 2001, publication date in the Federal Register. This one-year period will enable USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to prepare sampling, testing, and document review procedures; train agency personnel in the new procedures; and develop a new national reference database on the natural moisture content of raw products in the various meat and poultry product classes. Industry-wide water retention limits, multi-establishment water retention limits, or single-establishment water retention limits will be created using data collected under a written protocol.

FSIS also is revising poultry chilling regulations. These revisions will improve consistency and better reflect current technological capabilities and good manufacturing practices.