Beginning in 2012, the USDA will require supermarkets to post nutrition information including calories, fat, and cholesterol on or near meat products. It’s been over a decade since nutrition labels were first required on foods, but meat was an exception from the original rules.
“These labels have been a long time coming,” said executive director Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
However, CSPI expressed frustration with the rules, calling them a “missed opportunity” because they do not require labels specifically on the packages but instead allow supermarkets to chose whether to display the nutritional information on signs or on labels. Supermarkets have always chosen to post signs rather than use labels.
For consumers, signs are often written in a way that is difficult to understand and are placed in less-visible locations. They also only display the nutrition information for 4-ounce servings, which downplays the actual calorie and fat content of typical servings.
The organization also expressed disapproval at the continued use of the term “lean” on packaging as it is misleading to consumers. CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson notes:
The meat industry has insisted on labeling ground meat that way to make ground beef appear leaner. Consumers assume that they are following advice to eat lean meat when they purchase ground beef that is 80 percent lean, yet it is one of the fattiest meats on the market. Nutrition Facts labels don’t correct that deception.
Industry groups like the American Meat Institute have come out in favor of the labels. Representative Mark Dopp said consumers don’t appreciate “the many lean choices in the meat case.”