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By EAS Senior Consultant Susan Glenn

For years USDA has required labels be submitted for approval in order for product to be shipped out of a plant. In July of 1996 the first set of generic regulations went into effect allowing companies to approved some labels “in house” or generically. This rule included net weight changes, changing the signature line and changing the vignette. The rule also changed how many times the label had to be submitted to USDA for approval and took the inspector in charge out of the equation. Previously, labels were required to receive a sketch approval and a final approval of the actual label. In 1996, the generic regulations did away with final label approvals.

A new generic labeling rule went into effect on January 6, 2014, 18 years after the first set of generic regulations. The new rule states only certain types of labeling – i.e., 1) labels for temporary approval, 2) labels for products produced under religious exemption, 3) labels for products for export with labeling deviations, and 4) labels with claims and special statements — will have to actually be submitted to USDA for evaluation and approval. Some of the labels that will be allowed for generic approvals are labels with allergen statements, defined nutrition claims, and geographic claims. Labels for temporary approval, whole grain statements, nutrition front of package statements, natural claims and animal production claims are some of the types of labels that will still need to be submitted to USDA for approval. The Labeling and Program Delivery Division, which is responsible for all USDA label approvals, will accept labels for review that can be approved generically, but they will be given secondary status. Labels with claims, temporaries, religious exemptions and labels for export that bear labeling deviations will take precedence.

Many see this as another step toward an all-generic labeling system. Establishments will have more responsibility for label approvals. And Inspectors in Charge are expected to know the new rule. Standardized training will be implemented, but there may still be a big difference between how individual inspectors view labels at the plant. Some may still want to see the USDA stamp on the label even though it can be generically approved. That’s where USDA’s Labeling Submission Approval System may prove useful. It includes a section with a series of question to determine if a label can be generically approved. LPDD is hoping this will cut the turnaround time for label approvals. The process can take anywhere from 3-8 weeks.

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