USDA Agreed to Change the Design of Meat Labels

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April 29, 2013

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

The United States Department of Agriculture has agreed to meet industrial proposals to change the design of meat labels and how meat is described. The Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board plans more than 300 changes to the familiar words found on meat labels.

Meathead Goldwyn writes for the Huffington Post website. His own website, Amazing Ribs is about barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking. Meathead, as he called himself, says meat labels have always confused as well as informed. The food writer sees some improvement in the proposed labels, but he says some planned label changes will continue years of confusion.

"Pork butt, for example, does not come from the part of the animal most people think. It doesn't come from the butt which is flying(?) for the rear end, it comes from the shoulder. And instead of naming it "pork shoulder" which would be really logical, they now call it "Boston roast", so they went from confusing to meaningless."

Today's common names developed overtime, as meat cutters used terms that described parts of animals, as well as cuts made by butchers.

After the new changes, people may have to read more of the label to know what kind of meat they are buying. For example, labels currently say "beef" or "pork" on the first line. The new labels will use smaller print and will identify the animal on the second line. Also, cuts of meat that were traditionally names for beef products like rib steak, will now also being used for pork, that means a rib steak could come from either a cow or a pig.

The labels for chicken and other poultry will not change, labels for fish will not change either. Meathead  questions the use of French words that will replace the traditional descriptions of some cuts of meat.

"As that, I mean why is that, what I mean, you know, at least, somewhat descript it. And 'bottom round' is now 'maralow steak', that's sounds like a way to raise the price, you know, calling it a 'maralow steak'."

The meat industry wants meat producers and supermarkets to voluntarily adopt the new description. There are no legal requirements to make the changes. But the Food and Drug Administration is considering new rules that would require complete details on labels about where meat was raised, and processed. Meathead  says the combined label changes would be even more confusing to some people.

"What if there are two steaks side by side, or three, Mexican, American, and Canadian, which one they gonna pick up? And then how do they respond to a piece of meat from Shanghai, that's labelled Denver roast."

Indeed, and that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English, it was written by Anker Decker, and I'm Steve Ember.