What’s in That Meat?

Picture two raw chicken packages next to each other in the supermarket cooler. Both say “chicken breast.” If you look closely at the fine print on the label, however, you realize that one is, in fact, 100% chicken, while the other is two-thirds chicken breast and about one-third marinade sauce. The price might not seem like such a bargain when the consumer realizes that more than a third of the weight of the “chicken” is not chicken at all.

That’s confusing to the consumer, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has issued a proposed rule to implement common, easy-to-understand labeling standards for raw meat and poultry products that have been prepared with marinades, injections, or other solutions. The proposed rule would mandate that the primary name of the product include an accurate description of the raw meat or poultry component, the percentage of added solution, and the components in the added solution—all in a font that the average shopper can actually read. The second chicken breast in the above example would be labeled as “chicken breast—40% added solution of water and teriyaki sauce.”

The USDA estimates that almost 40% of all raw meat products contain at least some added ingredients—frequently a brining solution.

“Who wants to pay $4.99 a pound for the added water and salt?” asked Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement. “Besides cheating customers financially, ‘enhancing’ meat and poultry delivers a stealth hit of sodium. Better labeling would help consumers concerned about high blood pressure, stroke, or heart disease avoid products that contribute to those diseases.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., praised the proposed rule in a public statement. “Consumers have the right to know whether the meat or poultry they buy at the grocery store has been injected with unhealthy sodium additives. USDA’s announcement is a good first step toward ensuring that consumers have clear information so they can make healthy choices for their families.”

The rule appeared in the Federal Register on July 27 for a 60-day comment period.

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