Coming Soon: Nutrition Facts on Meat Products

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"I see a lot of people who are confused about different kinds of meat, and how many calories and how much fat is in each of them," said Tenekjian. "Right now, we have to give general guidelines, but having label requirements is going to make it really helpful for dieticians and the clients we serve."

We've got the Labels, Now What?

But meat nutrition labels are not the golden ticket to a healthier America, doctors say. Once the facts are in front of consumers, it's still important to spread nutrition knowledge and education so people understand the numbers they're reading.

"We really need to conduct very good research and focus groups to see what is most useful to people when reading food labels at the ground level," said Kitchin. "A lot of times, it's the percentages that confuse people."

And Katz said that, for all the information listed on that little piece of paper, nutrition labels tend to have a limited effect on a consumer's food choice.

"Partly, [this is] because peopled don't know how to translate nutrition facts into an overall conclusion," said Katz. "If we give people nutrition information they truly understand, and make it actionable, then it does influence eating habits."

To help consumers, Katz and other nutrition experts created the NuVal scoring system, where a food is rated between one and 100 in overall nutritional value. The higher the number scored, the more nutritious the food.

"When the information we provide does not influence habits, we cannot assume that means people don't care, it may simply mean we have given them facts, but not knowledge," said Katz. "Knowledge requires a step beyond facts. It requires interpretation of facts."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said that most ground beef already has such facts, and the label, 'lean,' can be misleading for many consumers. Because of this, the group had urged the USDA to prohibit 'percent lean' statements on ground meat labels.

In a statement, the CSPI said that consumers often believe they're eating a low-fat meat when they buy something that is 80 percent lean, when it's really one of the fattiest meats out there.

Small Biz Exemption

But despite the new guidelines, there are a few exceptions to the rule. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service exempts ground or chopped products produced by small business, products that are custom slaughtered or prepared, and those that are ground or chopped at an individual customer's request.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service states: to qualify for the exemption, a retail store must be a single retail store that employs 500 or few people or a multi-retail store that employs 500 or fewer people and produces no more than 100,000 pounds of group product each year. There is no small business exemption from the nutrition labeling requirements for the major cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products because the requirements should not impose an economic hardship on small businesses.

Some meat organizations say that small-business owners may be negatively affected by the new rules.

Jay Wenther, executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors, is concerned by the limited time frame to get things in order.

"Many of the small businesses we support don't have access to the Internet and may not even have a computer in their shop," said Wenther. "We were hoping for a longer implementation period, so this might be a struggle for some businesses out there."

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