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New federal nutrition labels required for 40 popular cuts of meat

December 29, 2010 | 10:36 am

USDA Beef Label 2 Coming soon to a grocery store near you: Those nutrition labels slapped on everything from cereal to soda pop will soon be required on packages of meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday morning that the new rule, slated to start Jan. 1 of 2012, requires that 40 of the most common cuts of poultry, pork, beef and lamb include labels that disclose to consumers the total number of calories, the number of calories 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 whole cuts of meat and poultry, including boneless chicken breast, tenderloin steak, and ground or chopped meat such as hamburger or turkey, said officials for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The new nutrition labels (which officials say will look something like the label above) will either need to be attached to the package itself or be available to shoppers at retail stores and grocers, officials said.

USDA officials say the new rule is designed to help American consumers be better informed about the health benefits and drawbacks of the meats they buy. All this comes as consumer advocates and lawmakers alike rail against the obesity problem among American children, and the Centers for Disease Control has reported that American men consume 7% more calories –- and women 18% more -– than they did in 1971.

These “nutrition facts” labels were revised in the early 1990s to give consumers uniform information about serving sizes and nutrients and became mandatory on virtually all processed food by 1994. But meat was, except under a voluntary measure, left out of the labeling overhaul. Now, as the FSIS published the rule in the Federal Register on Wednesday federal officials say they are taking the first step to making such labels mandatory for meat.

"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.”

You might be surprised at what you find: 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 fat.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A nutrition label for ground beef. Credit: USDA