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USDA Proposal to Require New Labeling for Some Beef Products Is Partially Correct -- And Mostly Wrong

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Proposal Takes One Size Fits All Approach That Will Confuse Consumers about Familiar Products 

Washington, D.C. – A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposal to require labeling changes on mechanically tenderized beef products is partially correct, but other provisions contained within it are mostly wrong, according to the American Meat Institute (AMI).

“The valuable component in USDA’s new proposed rule is a requirement that these products include validated cooking instructions. We support this effort and think that safe handling labels on all products should be reviewed and improved given data showing that existing, mandatory labels have had little impact on consumer knowledge and behavior,” according to AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges.

“However, requiring that familiar products like ‘Sirloin Steak’ now be called ‘Mechanically Tenderized Sirloin Steak’ will lead consumers to believe that this product is new or different than those with which they are familiar.  If, for example, Ford were suddenly forced to call an Explorer a ‘Robotically Assembled Ford Explorer,’ a buyer might think the car has been significantly changed. ” Hodges added.

“We would consider other labeling options that are validated through consumer research and shown to have a potentially meaningful impact on knowledge and behavior,” he continued. “For example, the product would still be called Sirloin Steak, but additional information on the package might read ‘Mechanically tenderized’  or ‘Contains enhancement solution with flavorings.’”

Mechanical tenderization uses blades to mechanically tenderize meat just as the consumer would pierce meat or poultry with a fork in the home kitchen.  In some cases, a marinade or solution is added.  These have historically been considered two very different types of tenderized products. 

USDA’s data show that both have types of products have excellent food safety records, but where there have been concerns, they have been almost exclusively linked to products that include an added solution.  USDA’s proposal inappropriately treats the two in identical fashion.   In USDA’s proposed rule, the agency notes that 174 of 176 illnesses linked to tenderized products over the last decade have been linked to products that contained an added solution.  During this same period, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 480 million foodborne illnesses occurred from all foods.

“It is troubling that USDA is taking a one size fits all approach to this diverse category of products,” Hodges said.  “Both types of products deliver safe, tender and flavorful products to the consumer.”


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