New USDA Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry

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According to the USDA, as of March 1, most meat and poultry products in the U.S. will have nutrition labels [1]. The rule applies to ground and chopped meat and poultry, plus the most popular cuts of raw meat and poultry. The aim of the new requirement is to give consumers access to information that aids in making healthy choices.

Meat nutrition label

Meat and poultry nutrition labels won’t have quite as much information on them as typical nutrition labels, but this is largely because the important variables in deciding among raw meat and poultry cuts are the amounts of fat and protein. Raw meat and poultry cuts can vary widely in the amount of fat they contain, with much of that fat (particularly in the case of corn-fed beef) being the heart-unhealthy saturated kind.

Saturated fat is a type of fat, largely from animal sources, that is associated with increased low density lipoprotein (LDL) and decreased cardiovascular health. Low density lipoproteins or LDLs (also called “bad cholesterol”) are transport particles that carry cholesterol molecules from the liver to cells in the body. High levels of LDL in the blood are associated with hardened and occluded arteries, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The new regulations also require raw meat and poultry to explicitly state what percent of the product is made up of fat. For instance, explains the UDSA, meat that is 12% fat (and, consequently, not considered low-fat), can currently carry a label that states “88% lean.” This may confuse consumers, leading them to believe that the meat is a low-fat product. Under the new regulations, the meat would need to carry a label stating that it contains 12% fat.

Current USDA recommendations available at Choose my Plate, which replaced the government’s food pyramid last year, indicate that women should consume 5-5.5 ounces of lean protein per day, while men should consume 5.5-6.5 ounces of lean protein per day. In both genders, the recommended protein per day depends upon age. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 7% of total daily calories [2].

The USDA will not require that nutritional information for the most popular cuts of meat be tailored specifically to the piece of meat a consumer is purchasing. That is to say, labels on the meat or charts near the butcher counter will be required to list nutritional information for an average cut of each type. The specific piece of meat a consumer is buying might have more or less protein, more or less fat, and more or fewer calories, depending upon how it compares to the average. Further, since the vast majority of beef in the U.S. is corn-fed and therefore higher in saturated fat and lower in heart-healthy unsaturated and omega-3 fatty acid than grass-fed beef [3], the nutritional information provided for average cuts of meat may not describe the nutrition of grass-fed beef accurately.


  1. Key Nutrition Information for Most Popular Meat and Poultry Products Coming to a Store Near You. United States Department of Agriculture press release. 2012 Mar 1.
  2. Know Your Fats. American Heart Association. Accessed 2012 Mar 8.
  3. Daley et al. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2010 Mar 10;9:10.
    View abstract
About the Author

Kirstin Hendrickson, Ph.D., is a science journalist and faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Arizona State University. She has a PhD in Chemistry, and studied mechanisms of damage to DNA during her graduate career. Kirstin also holds degrees in Zoology and Psychology. Currently, both in her teaching and in her writing, she’s interested in methods of communicating about science, and in the reciprocal relationship between science and society. She has written a textbook called Chemistry In The World, which focuses on the ways in which chemistry affects everyday life, and the ways in which humans affect each other and the environment through chemistry.