More Time for Chicken Debate: Facing industry...

Times Wire Services

More Time for Chicken Debate: Facing industry pressure, the Agriculture Department says it needs two more months of public comment before deciding how to make the distinction between fresh and frozen poultry.

The department's Food Safety and Inspection Service said it will extend by 60 days, until May 19, the comment period on a proposed rule banning the "fresh" label for birds that have been chilled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, when poultry becomes rock-hard to the touch. It is unclear whether that extension will automatically delay a final decision. The department said it still hopes to have a ruling in force by early next year.

Currently, chickens and turkeys can be frozen to zero degrees and still be considered fresh. Consumer groups and the California poultry industry had prodded the department into a review beginning in February, 1994. The California producers claimed the rule allowed producers in Southeastern states to sell previously frozen birds on the West Coast and market them as fresh. The National Broiler Council, which represents producers of 95% of the broilers sold in the United States, asked for the extension.

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