Packages of ground and chopped meat and poultry will soon bear a nutrition facts label–just like nearly everything else in the grocery store–as the U.S. Department of Agriculture gears up to implement a new labeling rule.

meatlabel1-featured.jpgThe USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Wednesday morning that 40 of the most popular cuts of meat and poultry, including ground or chopped products, will soon feature nutrition facts on their labels or provide the information at the point-of-purchase, beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

Ground and chopped meat will be required to have a nutrition label and whole cuts will either need to display a label or have the information available at the meat counter.

“More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions. The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services work hard to provide the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, and now consumers will have another tool to help them follow these guidelines.”

With the new labels, consumers will have access to information on calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and protein. 

According to the Federal Register, the new rule also stipulates that when a ground or chopped product “does not meet the regulatory criteria to be labeled ‘low fat,’ ” a lean statement may be included on the label, as long as the fat percentage is also included.

The new labeling rule does not apply to ground and chopped meat processed by businesses with a single facility producing less than 100,000 of pounds annually, or to products intended for further processing or intended for export, as long as the product’s label does not bear additional nutritional claims beyond fat and lean percentages.

“FSIS believes an exemption for ground or chopped products produced by small businesses is necessary because the burden of mandatory nutrition labeling may force some small firms to stop producing the product because of the cost of nutrition labeling and eventually force some small firms out of business,” according to the Federal Register notice. “FSIS believes it would not be feasible for some small businesses to incur the additional costs of nutrition labeling because of their low volume of sales or low volume of ground product.”

The requirement that businesses selling whole cuts of raw meat either use labels or have the information available upon request will not be eligible for the small business exemption because FSIS believe that the new rule will not burden small businesses.

“Nutrition information for the major cuts can be displayed either on the labels or on point-of-purchase materials,” according to the notice. “FSIS will make point-of-purchase materials available over the Internet free of charge. Therefore, small businesses will not incur significant costs to provide nutrition information for the major cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products.”

Meat will still have to be labeled with safe handling instructions.  The new labeling rule does not change that.

For detailed information on the new rule, see the Federal Register notice here