The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service answered three more petitions for policy changes before 2019 ended, none favorably.

Import Export Associates, Inc. petitioned the FSIS for changes in permitted safe handling instructions (SHI). Involved are protective coverings of meat products shipped in immediate containers with all mandatory labeling features.

The proposed change, which FSIS denied on Dec.30, would have allowed protective covering on meat without all the mandatory labeling features.

“You state that under current policy FSIS import inspection personnel are refusing entry to packaged products shipped in a fully labeled shipping carton if the products’ protective covering bears SHI without all the required labeling features,” the FSIS denial letter says.

FSIS questions Import Export Associates’ conclusion about whether existing policy prohibits standard handling instructions on protective covers that do not include all mandatory labeling features.

“After careful consideration of the petition, we have determined that it does not contain sufficient information to demonstrate that the requested action would benefit industry, consumers, or improve food safety,” the ruling says.

The petition does not include information on how frequently FSIS import inspection refuses entry for meat products bearing SHI on the protective covering. Nor is any information provided to back up the claim that costs associated with re-labeling are prohibitive.

The Import-Export petition was denied “without prejudice, which means it could be submitted again with more information backing its claims.

Also, getting the boot during December were petitions from the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Animal Welfare Institute. The petitions, in separate letters, were denied on Dec.10.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund asked FSIS to require meat and poultry labels that disclose routine antibiotic use during animal production. It asked for labels with specific terminology, including “Raised with Antibiotics” or “Raised without Antibiotics.” A disclosure of “Given Antibiotics for Therapeutic Antibiotic Use Only” was also included in the options.

After considering the petition for more than six years, FSIS denied it without prejudice. Agency labeling guidelines were addressed in September 2016, prompting 4,000 public comments, and were re-published last month. FSIS says guidelines address issues raised by ALDF.

FSIS says the absence of certain information on the label does not constitute misbranding under the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Product Inspection Act. It also said antibiotic claims do not provide information on the characteristics or components of meat and poultry products themselves. The agency also tests for antibiotics and other chemical residues.

The Animal Welfare Institute’s petition asked FSIS to change poultry product labeling regulations to define “free-range” with criteria for use in defending the claim. Those standards would include giving birds 1.) outdoor access daily during daylight hours during 51 percent of their lives; 2.) access to outdoor space with at least half providing vegetative cover; 3) multiple large access points to the outdoors; 4) natural or artificial shelter in the outdoor area.

The Animal Welfare Institute also wanted FSIS demand signed affidavits from those using any labeling terms like “free-range” or “free-roaming” along with pictures and written protocols.

FSIS also did not approve the “free-range” petition but instead has treated it as addition comments for the rule-making process on labeling guidelines that it was had underway since September 2016.