December 30, 2010

Nutrition Labels To Be Required On Meat, Poultry

Nutrition labels that are found on everything from soda to cereal, will now be required for meats beginning January 1, 2012, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Wednesday, saying the move will make it easier for consumers to understand the contents of the foods they buy.

The USDA said the nutritional information will be required for major cuts of raw, single-ingredient meat and poultry products, including chicken breasts, beef whole cuts, hamburger and ground turkey. The labeling will be posted on 40 of the most commonly purchased cuts of meat.

The new labels will list calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein and vitamins, according to USA Today. A product that has a lean percentage statement, such as "73 percent lean," will also list its fat percentage on the nutrition label.

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

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a statement that it supports showing the nutritional content of beef products on a label. But Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs for the NCBA, said the industry needed more time to implement the new rules.

"While NCBA believes consumers have the right to know what nutrients are found in meat, we also realize retailers and others in the food-production chain will face significant new costs associated with this final rule," Butts told MSNBC.

"We wish USDA would have granted our request for an 18- to 24-month implementation period," she said.

Federal officials say they hope the labels will make Americans more health conscious about what meats they buy.

"This will be very helpful to people who are bewildered by what's in meat," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. "But people will be quite shocked at the calories and fat."

A 4-ounce serving of regular ground beef that is 73 percent lean, for example, contains 350 calories, 270 calories from fat, according to the USDA, making up 60 percent of the suggested daily intake of saturated fat in a 2,000-calorie diet.

The labels will help consumers "make sure they are doing right by their families as they prepare," said Vilsack.

"There's a growing concern about the growing problem of obesity. So I think it is appropriate for us to provide as much concrete information to consumers as we possibly can, without overwhelming them, so they can make good solid decisions about how many calories they're consuming and how much activity they need," he said.

Nutrition Facts labels were first required for many products in 1993, but meat was only included under a voluntary provision. By publishing the rule in the Federal Register, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has begun the process of making them mandatory. The labels will either need to be attached to the product packages or made available at the point of purchase.

Vilsack said the cost of labeling will be minor.


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