Yesterday we wrote about the new mandate requiring nutrition labeling for 40 popular cuts of meat. There was quite a discussion in the comment thread and over at our facebook page. Below are some comments and our answer.
“I am confused. Why are there trans fats in there??”
Thanks for spotting that! The nutrition label for ground beef 15% fat clearly states 1% of trans-fat. Although the majority of trans fats in our diet come from partially hydrogenated oils (PHO), there is also naturally occurring trans-fat. It makes up 2-5% of the total fat in meat from ruminant animals (beef, lamb, but not pork or chicken). The chemical structure of these trans-fats is slightly different than the ones from PHOs, and isn’t of concern.
“I’ve heard about meat being treated with things to enhance their color. And I’ve also heard about it being injected with fluid (brine, maybe?) to increase its juiciness and to increase the weight that they’re charging you for. Are these myths? Or would the requirement of an ingredient list start to reveal some surprises?”
Meat is naturally red, but when in contact with oxygen it starts to brown. That’s why meat is always vacuum packed and filled with nitrogen. (Nitrogen makes up most of the air we breath, more than oxygen). Sometimes the meat is packed with carbon monoxide. The gas binds with myoglobin (a protein) in the meat, and keeps the pinkish red color from turning to brown. This does not pose a health hazard. There is no requirement to label use of carbon monoxide. The problem is that carbon monoxide can mask the natural signs that a meat is rotting or has passed its prime. You can leave a slab of meat on the kitchen counter for a whole day, it would spoil, and you would still see a nice red chunk of meat. The carbon monoxide also inhibits the formation of bad smells.
Many chicken processors inject brine (read: salt water) into the chicken meat to improve the flavor (and increase profit). We wrote about this practice last year. Manufacturers are legally required to disclose if poultry has been injected with a saline solution.
“Will they list mechanically separated meat?”
Mechanically separated meat is not sold as-is, but rather used in processed meat products such as hot dogs. These have ingredient lists, and mechanically separated meat is required to be listed as such. Learn more about mechanically separated meat here.
“Many meat items have added seasonings and flavorings. These added items usually contain some sort of preservative such as BHT, BHA or THBQ. We have to search high and low for a “minimally processed” meat…one where the meat product is the only ingredient.”
fresh cuts of meat are not packaged with BHA, BHT, or TBHQ. If seasoning is added, an ingredient list is required, and then the presence of the aforementioned triumvirate will be disclosed.
“I don’t care if my meat is 4oz or 14 oz if I don’t know how it was raised, what it ate and what was (or was not) administered to it I am not buying it. I don’t think portion size, grams of fat etc are the crucial issues when it comes to buying meat.”
Buying meat at the supermarket indeed separates consumers from the dirty work of raising animals, slaughtering, and butchering them. A growing group of consumers are choosing to purchase only organic meats because of the more humane treatment of animals and the prohibition of antibiotics or growth hormone use. For some folks, additional certifications such as “humane”, “grass fed”, “animal welfare” are key to making a decision whether to buy or not.
From a sustainability perspective, the best choice is to reduce meat consumption (whether organic or conventional). And that, dear friends, the hardest choice for many of us to make.