The USDA has finally decided consumers should know when a meat product is composed of 40 percent water-salt solution. Wow, you think? Congratulations, Department of Agriculture, for at last addressing the common industry practice of pumping ingredients into meat and supporting adequate labeling.
According to the agency, 30% of poultry, 15% of beef and 90% of pork contain “added solution.” Yet current guidelines don’t make it clear to consumers when meat has been treated and may consist of solutions that “can have more than five times as much sodium as occurs naturally in those foods,” according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Why is so much salt and water injected into our meat and poultry? An NPR article quotes the American Meat Institute, which acknowledges that the solution adds to the product’s weight and can “replace the flavor and moisture loss that results from raising leaner animals or from potential overcooking.”
Of course the meat industry plays down the fact that it adds weight to a product that it sells by the pound! Producers pride themselves in having a product with less fat than a few decades ago, but now must replace it with sodium and water for “flavoring.” If they are so proud, then how come consumers have been left in the dark for so long?
If a chicken breast or a pork loin has been “enhanced” with a sodium solution, people at the grocery store can’t easily tell the difference from those that haven’t. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office pointed out that the FDA has “largely not responded” to citizen petitions (including CSPI’s) to reconsider the GRAS status of ingredients such as salt.
The USDA’s move to require prominent labeling of “added solution” on raw meat products is clearly needed. Though industry will have at least two years to get used to the idea, with the proposed rules not likely going into effect until 2014 at the earliest.
In today’s convoluted food system, we hope to see more steps like this toward transparency.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.