Consumers are seeing changes in the meat cases, but the changes are slight, said a Penn State College of Agricultural Science meat expert.
On March 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented a new nutrient labeling rule for single-ingredient meat products. The rule states that whole muscle cuts of red meat and poultry, as well as ground and chopped meat, must include nutrition facts on the package label along with the product name and other information already listed. The nutrition information also may be provided in poster or brochure form at meat cases. Seafood is not included.
"This is really not a big change," said Ed Mills, associate professor of dairy and animal science. "There has been nutrition facts labeling on multi-ingredient products for a number of years."
Mills said that nutrient labels have been required for multi-ingredient (formulated) meat products since the early 1990s. Nutrient labels for single-ingredient meat products remained voluntary. However, the USDA recently determined that voluntary compliance was not high enough, and the agency decided to implement mandatory single-ingredient labeling.
Just as with any other food product, individual packages with nutrition claims, such as "low fat," are required to provide the full nutrition facts.
An exemption for small businesses applies to very small processors or retailers, which are not required to provide nutrient labels for ground and chopped meats. However, if the business makes a nutrition claim about its product, it then will be required to include a label. No one is exempt from including nutrient information on major cuts.
Mills said the labels can make comparing products more efficient, as the labels bring together information from several sources.
"The consumer can pick up two products and weigh differences in terms of the potential nutrient requirements in the meal," he said. "Consumers who might not have used nutrient information previously now are using it to make purchasing decisions."
Including the label is not free, but Mills said the cost to the packer or retailer is so small that it's hard to separate from other costs. Specific nutrient information for the labels comes from the USDA's food composition database. Chemical analysis, an expensive option, is not required for the labels.
To learn more about the nutrient labeling rule for single-ingredient meat products, visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at http://www.fsis.usda.gov online.