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What You Need to Know about the USDA’s New Meat Product Labeling Requirements

Have you been following the ‘pink slime’ controversy? Guest contributor Richard Console, a personal injury attorney who practices in Philadelphia, explains why the USDA’s new labeling requirements aren’t as straightforward as they seem.

March marks a milestone in nutritional labeling as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has initiated new requirements regarding many cuts of raw meat. The new measure was enacted by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and it will now require nutritional labeling on ground or chopped meat and poultry (ground beef, ground turkey, hamburger, etc.) as well as on 40 of the most popular cuts of meat like steaks and chicken breasts. This is truly a milestone for the USDA as in the past this type of labeling was only required for food products that contained more than one ingredient or were not raw.

Why were these new labeling requirements put in place?

The new labeling is intended to help American shoppers make better choices when they are purchasing meat as they will be able to see facts such as calories, serving sizes, fat, and more.

The USDA press release contained a statement from Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen in which she explained, “Providing nutrition information on meat and poultry products in the store gives shoppers a clearer sense of the options available, allowing them to purchase items that are most appropriate for their families’ needs. These new labels mark a significant step in the agency’s efforts to help consumers make more informed food purchase decisions.”

While it is admirable that they are taking these steps, this measure comes into effect at a controversial time and it is unclear if these labels will be considered adequate with the growing concern about pink slime.

What’s the deal with pink slime? 

The entire nation has turned their eyes to pink slime, an additive used in ground beef that is comprised of beef trimmings (the most bacteria-prone and least nutritious parts of the cow) that is treated with ammonia. This has many people wondering about the safety of consuming this additive, and also has many questioning the possible health repercussions. These parts or trimmings are prone to house dangerous bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella which could cause severe sickness and personal injury. Recently the USDA announced that it was purchasing 7,000,000 pounds of ground beef that includes pink slime for school lunch programs across the nation. This report on pink slime will bring you up to speed on the development of pink slime, the controversy, and potential effects of the additive.

Why it’s still ‘buyer-beware’ when it comes to meat

One of the biggest concerns of consumers with regards to pink slime is that there is no way of knowing if your ground beef contains it, as it is not required to be disclosed on the packaging. On most products with nutritional information there is also a list of ingredients, as it is required by federal regulations. However, the new label requirement for raw meat products does not include ingredients. This may mislead consumers into believing that what they are purchasing is 100 percent beef without pink slime.

It is unclear whether the USDA and meat distributors will ever agree to mark the presence of pink slime on meat packages for several reasons. One reason is that the USDA considers the addition of pink slime a ‘process’ not an ingredient. Also, with all of the controversy surrounding its use (despite the fact that the USDA claims pink slime to be completely safe to consume even with the ammonia treatment) it would not benefit the distributors to disclose it the additive, because it would make these products harder to sell.

While the USDA seems to mean well, it may do better in the public’s eyes to remove the veil of secrecy with regards to pink slime and require it to be listed on meat packaging. If there is fear of losing money by disclosing this additive, perhaps they should reconsider its use in America’s ground beef.

When a food manufacturer’s product causes illness to its consumers they should be held accountable. If you or someone you love has suffered serious illness as a result of a food product, speak with a skilled personal injury attorney today.

About the Author

Richard P. Console Jr. is a New Jersey personal injury attorney who has been protecting the rights of injury victims for 17 years.

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