What's New -- CSPI Press Releases

Not for Release Before: June 3, 1997

Contact: Bill Bryant at 202/332-9110 ext. 370

or Bonnie Liebman at 202/332-9110 ext. 335

Ground Beef Labels Mislead Shoppers, Says Consumer Group

USDA allows ground beef labels to make claims that would be illegal on other foods

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to require ground beef to comply with the same regulations that all other foods have to meet.

"The Department of Agriculture, the National Cancer Institute, the Surgeon General, and most other health officials urge the public to consume 'lean' meat," said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at CSPI. "But in most supermarkets around the country, that advice is impossible to follow."

Ground beef accounts for 45 percent of the beef sold in the U.S. and it adds more fat -- and more artery-clogging saturated fat -- to the average American's diet than any other single food. Yet in many supermarkets, ground beef labels make claims that wouldn't be allowed on most other foods. For example:

"Without 'Nutrition Facts' labels, most people haven't a clue how much fat ground beef contains, even if the label says '20% fat' or '10% fat,'" said Liebman. "How can shoppers compare those fat percentages on ground beef with the grams of fat on other labels? How do they compare fat percentages with the '% Daily Value' on 'Nutrition Facts' labels?"

The June issue of CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter shows how a typical label would look if ground beef had to meet the same labeling rules as other foods. Most ground beef that's too fatty to be called "lean" could still make a claim like "25% less fat" or "50% less fat."

"There is no good reason why the USDA should carve a loophole out of its nutrition labeling rules for ground beef," said Bruce Silverglade, CSPI's director of legal affairs. "Yet more than four years after the USDA's nutrition labeling rules were issued, the Department still hasn't decided how to label ground beef. In the meantime, ground beef labels in most stores have stayed the way the industry wants them."

CSPI's letter to the USDA urged the agency to act quickly. "For four years, the USDA has done little to ensure that consumers get complete and honest information about the fat content of ground beef," it said. "Until the Department gets rid of its double standards, consumers will get the false impression that the largest source of saturated fat in the average American's diet is a healthful food."

"Once again, the USDA is caught between its mandate to protect consumers and its mandate to protect meat producers," said Marion Nestle, chair of the nutrition department at New York University.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on nutrition, food safety, and alcohol policy. It fought for -- and won -- the law that requires "Nutrition Facts" labels on all food packages. Its studies of restaurant foods have changed the way millions of Americans eat out. CSPI is largely supported by its one million members and accepts no government or industry funding.

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