USDA has been busy in the last weeks of 2010. Planning meetings have been set for regulatory changes, proposals have been made for voluntary restrictions of growth promoting antibiotics and newest to the list is the new label requirements for meat and poultry.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) recent regulations require that 40 of the most popular cuts of meat and poultry, along with packaged ground and chopped meat and poultry, must be labeled with nutrition requirements effective Jan. 1, 2012. These labels have been previously mandated for other food products since 1993 and the recent consumer trends have pushed requirements to other protein products as well.

“More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand. We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions,” explains USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The nutrition labels will include the number of calories, along with the grams of total fat and saturated fat a product contains. Additionally, any product that previously listed a lean label must accordingly state its fat percentage, with intent of making the lean-to-fat ratio clearer for consumers.

Examples of major cuts of raw, single-ingredient meat cuts that will carry nutrition labels include beef whole cuts such as brisket or tenderloin steak. Examples of ground or chopped meat include hamburger and ground turkey.

NCBA issued a positive response to the new rule. Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs, issued the following statement:

“NCBA supports nutrition labeling on beef products and is pleased to see USDA moving forward with this effort. We believe this information is helpful in educating the public on the important contribution beef makes to a healthy diet.”

The statement does, however, address possible shortcomings, including the increased costs for retailers and others in the food-production change. Nonetheless, the benefits seem to be evident, particularly considering how easily consumers will be able to compare nutrition benefits of beef products with other lean protein sources.

Meanwhile, reports that the national beef checkoff introduced a new tool for processors seeking to comply with USDA’s new nutrition labeling rules. The “Nutrition Database for Meat and Poultry Products” is based on USDA's “Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,” providing accurate nutrient information for nutrition-labeling posters and signs.

The release notes that consumers are likely to be surprised to learn beef is a good source of 10 essential nutrients. It also points out that checkoff-funded research has shown retailers who implemented on-pack nutrition labeling programs increased meat department sales, while customers were more likely to be loyal to stores that offer labeling programs.

The Federal Register notice announcing this rule can be found at
-- Jamie May