USDA Mandates Nutrition Labels on Meat and Poultry

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Packaging for many ground or chopped meat and poultry products will now feature nutrition facts panels, according to a new rule established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Forty of the most common cuts of meat, as well as whole, raw meat and poultry products will be required to present this information on a label, or have the nutrition facts available at the point-of-purchase. The rule is to become effective on Jan. 1, 2012.

The announcement of the rule was made just days before the new year by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). It is designed to allow consumers to review the nutritional content of meat products before making a purchase decision. Information such as the number of calories and the grams of total and saturated fat will be found on the new labels. A further stipulation involves any product that lists a lean protein percentage statement, such as “80% lean.” These products will be required to list the fat percentage as well as the lean protein statement, so consumers can compare the two figures.

Examples of the major cuts of raw, single-ingredient meat and poultry that come under the new requirements include whole or boneless chicken breasts and other pieces and beef whole cuts such as brisket or tenderloin steak. Chopped or ground products subject to the mandate include hamburger, ground turkey and others. Producers or retailers with questions about the program should contact FSIS, according to USDA.

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), an organization which audits family farms and offers a certification for humanely raised animals, lauded the measure but said there is more room for improvement. “The new nutrition labels for meat products being introduced by the USDA do not go far enough to protect consumers. Yes, you’re getting more information on calories and portion sizes, but you still can’t tell where your meat really came from or how it was produced,” says AWA media relations associate Jill Nado.

She explains that current law in the United States only requires an affidavit from a farmer saying that they raised a meat animal, but these affidavits don’t require any oversight. “That animal could have been raised under unsanitary conditions and the consumer would never know. Consumers have the right and perhaps an obligation to know where the food is coming from,” Nado says. AWA has launched a search directory, at www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org, that has listings for AWA-certified farms, and AWA-labeled products at farmers’ markets, restaurants, grocery stores and online shopping sources.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2011 (online 1/14/11)