Beef Industry Hopes New Meat Grade Will Encourage Better Eating Habits
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The beleaguered beef industry is looking with hope at a new proposal to rename the government’s ″good″ grade of beef as ″select″ and encourage more Americans to eat leaner meat.
The proposal was advanced Monday by Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, a consumer organization, which argued that meat containing less fat is unfairly discriminated against by the ″good″ label. Consumers are misled into thinking that ″choice″ or ″prime″ are better in quality, the group said.
″Good - the leanest, and therefore healthiest, cut of the three - has the worst-sounding name,″ Ellen Haas, director of Public Voice, told a news conference as the group filed a petition asking for the change at the Agriculture Department.
The industry produces meat to meet consumer demand, which has been for well-marbled, tender cuts that grade ″choice″ or better. Because federal grading of meat is voluntary, packers pay to have it done only if it will result in a more marketable label.
Of the 65 percent of all beef that is graded, 93 percent is ″choice.″ It is difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference between the grades.
″We’ve been trying to market a leaner product for over a decade, and it simply hasn’t gone over very well at the retail counter,″ said Chuck Ball, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Association, which expressed interest in the idea.
″This may be the one that kind of pushes us over the edge and makes the leaner product our primary product,″ Ball said.
The petition also was tentatively backed by the American Meat Institute and warmly embraced by health groups including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Public Health Association.
Meat grades are based primarily on fat content rather than nutritional value. Leaner meat tends to be tougher than the well-marbled higher grades, but it also offers more nutrition per calorie consumed.
Supermarkets, recognizing a growing number of health-conscious consumers, have in many cases initiated their own store grades, calling the non-graded meat ″trim″ or ″lean.″ But those labels are inconsistent and often worthless to the consumer in providing accurate information, Haas said.
″The result is confusion at best, deception at worst and no clear and healthy choices for the consumer,″ she said.
The petition also requested that the department mount an education campaign extolling the virtues of leaner beef, to be paid for from an existing assessment on beef producers.
Because producing higher grades of beef requires that cattle be fed more grain, it is more economical for cattlemen to turn out ″good″-graded animals, Ball said.
Beef’s share of the meat market has fallen sharply in recent years as consumers eat increasing amounts of chicken and other protein sources. But cholesterol levels are virtually the same in three-ounce portions of beef, chicken or fish, said Nancy Chapman of the Heart Association.
Haas said she had received a favorable initial response from Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng, although opposition was expected from some groups. Beef packers like highly fattened animals because a higher percentage of each carcass is marketable. And corn growers would likely resist any move that would weaken the market for feed grains.
″It’s not too great for some of those,″ Haas said. ″But it’s time to put a priority on nutrition and health concerns.″
Public Voice calls itself a non-profit consumer advocacy group, supported by foundation grants and through sale of publications.