Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

970603 Consumers Still "Mislead" by Ground Beef Labels?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a "health-advocacy" organization, wrote to FSIS Administrator Tom Billy expressing concern that "consumers are still being misled by claims on ground beef labels." Current USDA rules permit the product to be labeled with both "%lean" and "%fat" content or requires "Nutrition Facts" on the label.

Arguing that consumers are unable to comprehend ground beef labeling, CSPI requests the following in the letter to Billy: "USDA should:

  • prohibit "%lean" claims on ground beef;
  • USDA should require ground beef to meet the same definitions of "lean" and "extra lean" that apply to other foods;
  • USDA should require ground beef labels to replace "%lean" and "%fat" claims with the same "%less fat" claims used by other foods, and;
  • USDA should require complete "Nutrition Facts" on ground beef labels that make nutrient content claims.
  • In October 1993 a number of major U.S. meat associations petitioned FSIS to provide "more truthful and easily understood labeling for the lean/fat composition of ground meat." The petition explained that with the then pending implementation of Nutritional Labeling, consumers would be at a disadvantage if the easy-to-interpret and useful "%lean" and "%fat" labeling was replaced by Nutritional Labeling. "The only recourse for consumers who wish to compare the lean/fat content of ground beef products such as hamburger, ground chuck, ground round and ground sirloin will be to make very complex mathematical calculations on a calculator utilizing limited information available in the nutritional statement," stated the petition. Therefore, the petitioners urged the Department to continue the present practice of lean/fat labeling.

    As a result, the USDA published a proposed rule in 1994 regarding ground beef labeling. After the Department received thousands of comments, it was decided that either lean/fat labeling or nutritional labeling would be allowed until a final rule was published. A final rule has not yet been published, though it is believed that USDA will likely initiate negotiated rulemaking in an attempt to resolve the matter.

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