After years of declining or stalled sales, supermarket meat counters are being revived with the emergence of lean versions of beef and pork designed to appeal to health-conscious consumers.
The latest such entry, Heritage Premium Quality Beef, purportedly offers the tenderness and quality of USDA Choice meat, but with 25% to 50% less fat.
The debut of Heritage, now available exclusively at Hughes Markets, also introduces a brand name in the beef category, an area that has traditionally been generic.
The Heritage brand is produced under the strict guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutritional labeling verification program, which requires substantiation for any claims made about fat or cholesterol content.
And not only is Heritage claiming to contain less fat than traditional USDA Choice beef, it is also stating that a 3-ounce cooked portion of its round steak contains fewer calories than identical servings of chicken, pork or lamb.
Still Rated Choice
Handy Packing Co. of San Angelo, Tex., which produces Heritage, obtains the leanness by trimming exterior fat and using certain crossbreeds of cattle known for their leaner meat. Even with the fat reductions, Heritage still maintains its USDA Choice rating, a grade that indicates a higher degree of tenderness.
"You will see much leaner beef brought to market overall in a relatively short period of time," said Jack Ackroyd, advertising director for Hughes Markets. "Eventually, producers will not be able to market the fatter types of meat."
Last week, Los Angeles-based Hughes introduced Heritage Premium Quality Beef, which will be priced higher than the chain's regular USDA Choice beef, in its 42 stores.
"We have exclusivity on this branded product for a limited time," said Ackroyd. "At least, I assume it will be a limited period because if the product gains wide acceptance from consumers, then other packing companies will . . . seek their own nutrition verification program for beef."
The recent move by Hughes follows by several weeks the introduction of USDA Select grade meats at Lucky Stores. USDA Select is a grade below USDA Choice and, as a result, contains less fat but is generally not as tender.
Ralphs Grocery Co. is also expected to introduce a lean beef program in the near future, one that will also center around the promotion of USDA Select meats.
And pork producers have also been heavily promoting their product as "the other white meat." In the last decade, hogs have been bred to contain less fat and the various cuts of pork marketed today are indeed leaner than in previous years.
Pesticide Problems--Many consumers who use pesticides in and around the home are "careless (in the chemicals' application) and are exposing themselves and others to (health) risks," according to a recent study by UC Davis researchers.
More than 400 Californians were surveyed for the report, which also found that men are most likely to be the "unsafe users."
Carelessness was often synonymous with pesticide familiarity, according to the report's authors, James Grieshop and Martha Stiles.
"People who use pesticides frequently believe in their effectiveness and perceive the danger from pesticides to be low (and thus) take fewer precautions and greater risks when using the materials," the report states.
However, the manufacturers are also partially to blame for the safety-related problems, the survey found, because products' warning labels are "unclear, difficult to read or incorrect."
In fact, the UC Davis team said that in a few cases pesticide products may actually be encouraging people to "threaten, rather than protect, public health."
"The labels analyzed in the study directed consumers to dispose of (unused) pesticides in the trash, an illegal activity in California," the report states.
For the record: Only empty pesticide aerosol containers may be discarded, according to state regulations. The same guidelines prohibit the disposal of unused pesticides unless they are accepted by an authorized toxic waste landfill.
Local Misapplications--The issue of pesticide misuse is not limited to the problems uncovered by the UC Davis team. For instance, the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner's office recently reported numerous complaints of illness related to pest-killing chemicals, according to a department newsletter.
In the first three months of 1988, the agency investigated 107 reports of pesticide-related illness and damage in the Los Angeles area.
The number of such incidents brought to county officials has increased in each of the past several years, according to Paul Dufourd, a supervising agriculture inspector.
"The numbers are going up every year," he said. "The figures for the first three months of 1988 are higher than for the same quarter last year, I'm sure of it."
Although most of the alleged cases of misuse brought to the county's attention involve commercial pest-control firms, there are also a number of cases concerning large-scale agriculture or back-yard vegetable and fruit gardening.
However, county inspectors find that most of the verifiable cases of pesticide misuse result from their regularly scheduled inspections rather than from consumer complaints. From January through March, the Agriculture Commissioner's office issued 60 notices of violation for pesticide misuse, an administrative action that could lead to fines and criminal charges. Few, if any, of these cases were the result of public complaints.
"There are 8,000,000 people who live in Los Angeles County, and I can't say that all misuse pesticides. Many do, but many do not," said Dufourd.
County residents who believe that pesticides are being misapplied can report the incident to the Pesticide Enforcement Division at (818) 575-5465.