A butcher at a Costco store in Arlington, Va. The new nutrition label rule… (Brendan Smialowski, Bloomberg )
Coming soon to a grocery store near you: nutrition labels, like the ones seen on soda pop and potato chips, slapped on packages of raw ground meat and chicken breasts.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that a new federal rule will require 40 of the most commonly purchased cuts of poultry, pork, beef and lamb to carry labels that disclose a variety of information to consumers.
Slated to go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, the rule will require meat producers to disclose the total number of calories, the number of calories that come from fat, and the total grams of fat and saturated fat. The labels also must include details about protein, cholesterol, sodium and vitamins in the product, according to federal officials.
The rule will apply to raw and single-ingredient major cuts of meat and poultry, including boneless chicken breast, tenderloin steak and ground meat such as hamburger or turkey, officials for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said. The new nutrition labels must be attached to the package itself or be available to shoppers at retail stores, officials said.
The food industry's "nutrition facts" labels were revised in the early 1990s to give consumers uniform information about serving sizes and nutrients. They became mandatory on virtually all processed food by 1994. But raw cuts of meat generally were left out of the labeling overhaul.
USDA officials said the new rule was aimed at helping Americans to be better informed about the meat they buy. The new rule comes at a time when consumer advocates and lawmakers alike are railing against the obesity problem among American children. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that American men consume 7% more calories — and women 18% more — than they did in 1971.
Food nutrition experts say consumers may be surprised at what they read: According to the USDA's Nutrient Data Laboratory, a 4-ounce serving of ground beef that is 80% lean meat contains about 280 calories — with 200 of those calories coming from 23 grams of total fat.
"More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement released Wednesday. "We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions."
The American Meat Institute, a trade group, said retailers would be challenged to roll out the new labels in time to meet the 12-month implementation period. Still, the group noted that the new requirements would give the industry a chance to tout some of its more healthful options at the meat counter.
Mark Dopp, the trade group's senior vice president of regulatory affairs, pointed out that a 3.5-ounce serving of skinless, boneless chicken breast is 165 calories and 3.57 grams of fat and the same-size serving of beef round roast has 166 calories and 4.87 grams of fat.