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    USDA Instructs Ahold Divs. to Revise Beef Labels

    Kroger modifies chicken labels

    Two major supermarket retailers have modified the wording on labels of their fresh meat products in as many days.

    Labels on Ahold USA’s retail divisions' recently introduced Butcher Shop beef brand will revert back to their previous USDA grading system following word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the new "USDA-Graded" moniker was not in compliance.

    The company's divisions, which include Stop & Shop New England, Stop & Shop New York Metro, Giant Landover, Giant/Martin’s and online grocer, Peapod, formerly used USDA's customary beef grading levels of "choice" and "select."

    Ahold's new labeling was brought to the attention of the USDA, which reached out to the supermarket chain to instruct it to discontinue the use of the new beef label because they were not in compliance with USDA standards and could be easily misconstrued by consumers.

    In an emailed statement to Progressive Grocer, Tracy Pawelski, Ahold’s VP of external communications, said: “We were operating under the understanding that this labeling change was an acceptable practice. We were subsequently contacted by the USDA and informed that this label was not permissible under USDA standards because it does not specify the USDA Grade. We have been working with the USDA to ensure that new labels, which will be in stores beginning this week and next, are clear to customers and in full compliance with USDA standards. We apologize to customers for any confusion caused by this labeling error."

    The USDA, which grades beef and regulates labeling, inspects all beef sold in the United States for health safety. The agency grades about 94 percent of meat sold based on tenderness, juiciness, flavor and marbling.

    Meanwhile, The Kroger Co. agreed to modify the label on its natural and organic Simple Truth chicken as part of an agreement to dismiss a lawsuit filed in a federal court in California. Under the settlement, Cincinnati-based Kroger agreed to remove the words, "raised in a humane environment," from its Simple Truth chicken packaging labels following a proposed class action case filed by an individual who alleged the phrase was misleading.

    Kroger and its supplier, Perdue Farms – which will also remove the “humanely raised” phrase on its Harvestland brand chicken labels in conjunction with a separate case – opposed both claims. In a statement, Herb Frerichs, general counsel for Salisbury, Md.-based Perdue Farms, said: “Perdue rejects the plaintiffs’ allegations and maintains that its labels are not misleading in any way. Nonetheless, it has agreed to discontinue the labeling claim at issue. Perdue is committed to treating animals with respect and to ensuring their health and safety. We are pleased this lawsuit has been resolved.”

    For its part, Kroger's VP of corporate brands, Gil Phipps, was quoted in a story by Reuters as saying: "We stand by our assertion that the 'raised in a humane environment' claim on our Simple Truth chicken label is accurate." Phipps added that the company is "pleased to put this lawsuit behind us," and pledged to "continue to work with our suppliers to ensure the humane treatment and welfare of animals."

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