On January 1, 2012, the USDA rules for meat labeling will change. The new rule requires nutrition labeling of the major muscle cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products, as well as all ground or chopped meat and poultry products, with or without added seasonings.

The rules are slightly different for each category of meat.

Chopped and Ground

Products required to be labeled include single ingredient raw hamburger, ground beef patties, ground chicken, ground turkey, ground chicken patties, ground pork and ground lamb. The labeling must appear on the package and will include the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat a product contains.

The new rule permits ground or chopped meat and poultry products that do not qualify for a low-fat claim to bear a lean percentage claim as long as it is accompanied by a percentage of fat statement.

Some exemptions apply. For example, packages with less than 12 square inches in total surface area and products that are ground at a customer’s request at retail and contain no nutrition claims or information are exempt.

In addition, small businesses such as producers and retailers who employ 500 or fewer employees and produce no more than 100,000 pounds of a particular ground product annually in a single facility or multi-plant or store company are exempt; provided no nutrition claim or information is made on the product label.

Major Cuts

The USDA defines the major muscle cuts that require labeling. They include most beef roasts and steaks; pork roasts, chops and ribs; lamb chops, roasts and legs; veal steaks, roasts, chops and cutlets; and most chicken and turkey cuts. Examples of non-major cuts would include beef flank steaks and ribs, as well as chicken tenders.

Labeling for major cuts can appear either on the label or at point of sale. The labels must include:

  • Calories
  • Calories from fat
  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total carbohydrate
  • Protein
  • Iron

Because meat and poultry are not generally a source of fiber, sugar, vitamins A and C and calcium, these nutrients do not have to be featured in the labeling so long as they are included in a “not a significant source of . . .” statement.

Exemptions include:

  • Products intended for further processing, provided that the labels for these products bear no nutrition claims or nutrition information.
  • Products that are not for sale to consumers, provided that the labels for these products bear no nutrition claims or nutrition information.
  • Products in small packages that are individually wrapped packages of less than ½ ounce net weight, provided that the labels for these products bear no nutrition claims or nutrition information.
  • Products that are custom slaughtered or prepared.
  • Products intended for export.

The rule does not provide a small business exemption for major cuts.

The nutrition information for the labels may be obtained from the USDA’s National Nutrient Data Bank or the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. At this point, the USDA makes no allowances for the difference in nutritional measurements between grainfed and grassfed meats.

To read the rule in its entirety, visit the USDA web site.

Consumers with questions about the new labels should call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Producers or retailers seeking further information should contact: Rosalyn Murphy-Jenkins, Director, Labeling and Program Delivery Division, Office of Policy and Program Development, Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD 20705, or by phone at (301) 504-0878.

AGA will keep you updated as more information becomes available.