The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will require nutritional labeling of raw meats and poultry beginning January 1, 2012. Here is an overview of the types of meats covered and exemptions:

Major cuts: This final rule requires nutrition labeling of the major cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products that are not ground or chopped, except for certain exemptions (see below). For these products, the final rule requires that nutrition information be provided on the label or at point-of-purchase, unless an exemption applies.

Ground or Chopped Products: This final rule requires that nutrition labels be provided for all ground or chopped products (livestock or poultry) and hamburger, with or without added seasonings, unless an exemption applies (see below).  This includes single-ingredient, raw hamburger, ground beef, ground beef patties, ground chicken, ground turkey, ground chicken patties, ground pork, and ground lamb.

Non-major Cuts that are not Ground or Chopped: FSIS is not requiring nutrition information for single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products that are not major cuts and that are not ground or chopped. But, if nutrition information is provided for these products, it must be provided in accordance with the nutrition labeling requirements for the major cuts.

Exemptions: Provided no nutrition claims are made, exemptions apply to applicable meat products that are :

* intended for further processing
* not for sale to consumers
* in small packages that are individually wrapped packages of less than 1/2 ounce net weight
* custom slaughtered or prepared
* intended for export
* ground or chopped at an individual customer’s request and that are prepared and served at retail
* produced by small businesses that use statements of percent fat and percent lean on the label
* ground or chopped products in packages that have a total surface area for labeling of less than 12 square inches, provided that an address or telephone number that a consumer can use to obtain the required information is included on the label

There is also an exemption for small businesses provided they include no other nutrition claims or nutrition information on the product labels. To qualify, a meat or poultry product must be produced by a single-plant facility or multi-plant company/firm that has 500 or less employees and produces no more than 100,000 pounds of the meat product annually.

As reported by Food Navigator, Mark Dopp of The American Meat Institute expressed concern with the 1 year implementation period stating it would be challenging for the meat industry, but added that the new labeling requirements would present an opportunity to show consumers what a wide range of lean meats there are available. Trans fat information is not required on the new labels and instead will be voluntary. Consumer groups argued that this critical piece of information is required by the FDA and should have been included given the harmful impacts on LDL cholesterol levels. In response, the FSIS stated that while not mandatory, they anticipate many companies will voluntarily include trans fat information given the estimate that 75-80% of nutrition labels already include it.

Additional labeling requirements are a step in the right direction for transparency and consumer education. Be Food Smart applauds the USDA for this recent legislation and hopes the new labels help consumers make smarter food choices.

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