Meat, poultry to have nutrition labels by 2012: USDA

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 29, 2010 5:46pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nutritional labels will be mandatory on 40 popular cuts of meat and poultry products beginning in 2012, a measure the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Wednesday will make it easier for consumers to understand the content of the foods they buy.

USDA said the nutritional information will be required for major cuts of raw, single-ingredient meat and poultry products. These include whole or boneless chicken breasts, beef whole cuts such as brisket or tenderloin steak, and hamburger and ground turkey.

"More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions."

The nutritional panels will include the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat a product contains. A product that has a lean percentage statement, such as "76 percent lean," on its label also will list its fat percentage.

The new measure comes into effect on January 1, 2012.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says two-thirds of American adults and 15 percent of children are overweight or obese. In some states, the childhood obesity rate is above 30 percent.

The White House, lead by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, has urged food manufacturers to re-package food so that it is healthier for children in an effort to help combat child obesity.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the new labeling efforts provide no new consumer benefits. It added the use of the word "lean" for ground beef misleads consumers into thinking that it's lower in fat than it really is.

"It's too bad that USDA missed an opportunity to give consumers easy-to-use, on-package information, said Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director.

"USDA should err on the side of protecting consumers' health," Jacobson said. "But I fear that when the food industry wants one thing and consumers another, consumers get the short end of the stick."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a statement it supported showing the nutritional content of beef products on a label. But Kristina Butts, NCBA's executive director of legislative affairs, said the industry needed 18- to 24-months to implement the new requirements.

"While NCBA believes consumers have the right to know what nutrients are found in meat, we also realize retailers and others in the food-production chain will face significant new costs associated with this final rule," said Butts.

(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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