Depending on public response, USDA may postpone regulations mandating labels on raw meat and poultry products identify the amount of water retention.

USDA plans to require companies to justify all retained water in raw meat products as an unavoidable consequence of processes used to meet food safety requirements. The regulations were set take effect on Jan. 9, 2002, but that may change.

Four meat and poultry trade associations contend the start date doesn’t allow companies enough time to make needed changes. Because of this, USDA is asking for public comments on moving the start date back to Aug. 1, 2002.

The debate was sparked by the U.S. National Cattlemen's Beef Association who challenged USDA’s practice of allowing poultry to contain up to 8 percent added water weight while raw beef had a zero standard. The same is true for pork products.

USDA estimates the new regulations will cost the industry about $18.4 million per year.

Public comments on the postponed date are due by Nov. 16.