Raw meat and poultry products are sometimes marinated or injected with water, salt water, flavorings and other additives, but consumers may not know that unless they read the fine print on the package.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants such information disclosed conspicuously on the label.

Under a new rule proposed Thursday, any “injections, marinades, or otherwise added solutions” would have to be identified by common names and amounts on the product’s name label “in a font, size and color that are easily visible to consumers.”

In a news release announcing that FSIS is poised to require more prominent additive labeling, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for Food Safety, said there is a need for a new rule because “it has become evident that some raw meat and poultry labels, even that follow our current guidelines, may not be clear.”

For example, the agency explained, both a plain chicken breast and a chicken breast injected with solutions can be labeled as “chicken breast,” even though one is purely chicken meat and the other may be 60 percent chicken meat and 40 percent additives.

If the new rule is adopted as proposed, the product name of the embellished breast would have to be: “chicken breast – 40 percent added solution of water and teriyaki sauce,” or whatever the added solution.

Without such specific, easy-to-understand information, FSIS said labeling of some raw meat and poultry products “is likely to mislead consumers.” USDA estimates that 30 percent of poultry, 15 percent of beef and 90 percent of pork contain added solutions.

“Consumers should be able to make an informed choice in the store, which is why we need to provide clear, informative labels that will help consumers make the best decisions about feeding their families,” Hagen said in the written statement.

Chicken breasts, pork tenderloins and other foods pumped up with saltwater solution can have five times as much sodium as would naturally occur in those foods, noted the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which applauded the labeling proposal.

And “who wants to pay $4.99 a pound for the added water and salt,” asked CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, in a news release. “Besides cheating customers financially, ‘enhancing’ meat and poultry delivers a stealth hit of sodium.”

CSPI said FSIS will rule separately whether saltwater-injected meats and poultry can be labeled “natural,” as many are.

The proposed rule on additive labeling was posted Thursday on the FSIS website and is expected to be published in about two weeks in the Federal Register.  

Comments about it must be received on or before 60 days from publication in the Federal Register and may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS Docket Clerk, Room 2-2127, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Mailstop 5272, Beltsville, M.D. 20705. All comments must identify FSIS and docket number FSIS-2010-0012.