Nutrition Action Healthletter
July/August 2000 — U.S. Edition 

Meat and Poultry Labeling: Close The Loopholes
Michael Jacobson.

The government giveth, and the government taketh away.

   “I am pleased to announce today that this summer the federal government will propose that packaged meat and poultry sold in stores must come with nutrition labels,” President Clinton said in his national radio broadcast last May 27.

   It’s about time. Ten years after Congress passed a law requiring nutrition labels on just about all packaged foods, the feds have decided to do something about the inexcusable exemption for ground beef and other fresh meat and poultry.

   Sort of.

   While the President indicated that he plans to require the same “Nutrition Facts” labels on fresh meat and poultry that are now required on almost all other foods (except fresh produce and seafood), the proposal has two loopholes big enough to drive a heart attack through:

 Posters. Supermarkets can choose to put nutrition labels on fresh cuts of beef, pork, and poultry or they can “post signs or make information readily available in brochures or leaflets,” says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s an awfully big “or.”

   “Point of purchase” charts, posters, and brochures are worthless. Most consumers won’t even know that they exist, and busy shoppers are unlikely to stop and peruse them.

   TV dinners, cheese, and just about all other packaged foods (including processed meats like bologna and hot dogs) are required to carry nutrition information on their labels. What’s so special about a T-bone steak or a couple of pork chops or chicken thighs? Only the strength of their lobbies in Washington.

 “Percent lean” claims. According to the Administration’s proposal, supermarkets will have to put nutrition labels on all packages of ground beef. That’s a giant step forward. But the USDA caved in to industry pressure when it said that it will continue to allow claims on ground beef packages that aren’t allowed on other foods.

   In 1994, the government ruled that claims like “80% lean” were deceptive and should be banned from all foods that aren’t actually low in fat. But it temporarily exempted ground beef. The new regulation would make the exemption permanent. So the fattiest ground beef will still carry labels that say “70% lean,” and many shoppers will buy it thinking they’re following advice to eat “lean” meat. Here’s what you can do:

1. Write or e-mail USDA Secretary Dan Glickman (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14th & Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, DC 20250 —

2. Ask your Senator and Representatives to contact Secretary Glickman. Click here to e-mail your congressperson.

   In both cases the message is the same:

   The government needs to close the loopholes in its meat-labeling proposal. Fresh meat (including ground beef) and poultry should have to follow the same rules as all other foods. That means that every package should carry full nutrition information, and that deceptive “% lean” claims on ground beef should be prohibited.

   Please “cc” us at Thank you.  

Michael F. Jacobson
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest


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