Beef proponents expect information to boost consumption
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
A new USDA rule requiring nutritional labels on some cuts of meat and poultry is getting mixed reviews from the industry.
Under the rule, USDA will require packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry to carry nutrition panels on their labels. In addition, whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry will have nutrition information either on their package labels or available at the store.
USDA estimates the costs associated with labeling at $10.5 million to $10.9 million annually and the benefits at $75.5 million annually. The requirement pertains to 30 cuts of red meat and 10 cuts of poultry and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012.
"More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release announcing the new rule on Dec. 29.
The panels should provide consumers with sufficient information to assess the nutrient content of the major cuts, enabling them to select products that fit into a healthful diet, he said.
"Idaho's beef industry supports nutrition labeling on beef products and is pleased to see USDA moving forward with this effort," said Traci O'Donnell, executive director of Idaho Beef Council. "We believe this information will be helpful in educating consumers on the important contribution beef makes to a healthy diet."
The labeling will ultimately lead to increased consumer confidence in beef products and increased sales, she said.
However, not everyone is enthusiastic.
"It is difficult to find value in something when the consumers don't want the information and purchase meat products based on visual appearance and price," said Jay Wenther, executive director, American Association of Meat Processors. "In five years, it would be interesting to find out how many consumers actually truly utilize the information."
Safe handling labeling of fresh meat products is a mandated regulation, yet most consumers don't read it, don't follow the suggestions or even recognize that it is on the packaging, he said.
"In my opinion, it comes down to another mandated regulation," he said. "Sometimes when the government gets involved in small businesses it simply makes issues more confusing than they need to be."
The majority of AAMP members, including processors, wholesalers, retailers and more, are small, family-owned and -operated businesses, he said. While there is an exemption for small businesses, USDA has not yet provided specific guidance for those affected.
One year doesn't provide a lot of time for the entire retail meat industry to comply, he said.
While National Cattlemen's Beef Association is in full support of the new labeling, it also has concerns about the compliance deadline.
"We also recognize retailers and others in the food-production chain will face significant new costs associated with this final rule," Kristina Butts, NCBA executive director of legislative affairs, said in a written statement. "We wish USDA would have granted our request for an 18-24 month implementation period."
"The challenging part, as we see it, is going to be the implementation time," said Janet Riley, a spokesperson for the American Meat Institute. "As for the rule itself, we think it's going to be a good opportunity because people are going to be surprised by what they see. I think there's a misconception out there about red meat and nutrition. People are going to learn how many good, lean options there are out there in the marketplace."
Capital Press reporter Tim Hearden contributed to this article.
Producers or retailers can contact: Rosalyn Murphy-Jenkins, FSIS, at 301-504-0878.
The rule: http://federalregister.gov/a/2010-32485