The labels would be similar to those that have been required on processed food since 1994.
“This is just plain common sense. Shoppers value the fact that when they pick up a box of cereal or a frozen meal, they can check the nutrition labels and see how many calories or grams of saturated fat these foods contain,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address. “That’s the same kind of information that ought to be put on every package of ground beef.”
About 60 percent of supermarkets currently post nutrition information near their meat cases, and some major meatpackers and poultry companies voluntarily put nutrition labels on the packages themselves.
Most Americans Lack Healthy Diet
The proposal is the latest in a series of food safety and nutrition initiatives that the administration has promoted recently to burnish a legacy for Clinton of consumer protection.
Earlier this month, the president called for new testing requirements for listeria, a pathogen in processed meats, and the Food and Drug Administration has proposed expanding the nutrition labels on processed foods to include artery-clogging trans fats, a common ingredient in baked goods.
Clinton also announced today the release of the government’s new dietary guidelines for Americans, which are revised every five years to reflect the latest developments in scientific research. The 2000 version follows a more upbeat approach — saying “eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures” — and includes new sections on whole grains, food safety and exercise.
The vast majority of Americans “don’t have healthy diets, and some changes in our lifestyles are making matters worse,” the president said. “We’re eating more fast food because of our hectic schedules, and we’re less physically active because of our growing reliance on modern conveniences, from cars to computers to remote controls.”
Obesity a Great Concern
One in three non-elderly adults are now overweight. Fifty-eight million American adults ages 20 through 74 are overweight, and the number of overweight Americans increased from 25 percent to 33 percent between 1980 and 1991.
One in five children are at risk of being overweight. Ten percent of children are overweight or obese. The number of overweight children has doubled over the past 15 years, and 70 percent of overweight children ages 10 to 13 will be overweight and obese adults.
Most of this increase has taken place in recent years; 10 percent of children, 4 to 5 years of age, were overweight in 1988 through 1994, compared with 5.8 percent in 1971 through 1974. Recent studies indicate that this trend is associated with low levels of physical activity rather than increased food consumption.
Obesity is linked to an increased incidence of chronic disease. Obesity is a risk factor for diseases such as coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
The Healthy Eating Index shows that 88 percent of Americans have diets that are poor or need improvement. Only 26 percent of people meet the daily dietary recommendation for dairy products, and less than 20 percent meet the daily recommendation for fruits. In particular, teenagers and people with low incomes tend to have lower quality diets.
Pressure on Sugar Intake
The guidelines, contained in a 39-page booklet, largely follow the recommendations of an advisory panel of 11 nutrition experts, but the administration bowed to criticism from the food and soft drink industry and weakened the committee’s suggested section on sugar intake.
The scientists’ version had urged consumers to “limit” their consumption of sugary foods and beverages. The administration’s final version says consumers should “moderate” their sugar intake and it also deletes the advisory panel’s conclusion that Americans have been increasing their consumption of sugar.
Defending the change, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said it “makes the language about sugar consumption parallel with other guidelines that encourage moderate consumption of other things such as alcohol and total fat.”
Federally funded nutrition programs are required to adhere to the dietary guidelines, which were first published in 1980, and they also are used widely by professionals and dietitians in advising consumers.
The meat-labeling requirement fits with the guidelines’ emphasis on reducing consumption of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. Requiring nutrition labels on fresh meat would make it easier for consumers to compare the nutritional content of different cuts.
More Nutrition Information
A 3-ounce, cooked patty of ground beef that is 80 percent lean has 6 grams of saturated fat, 30 percent of the recommended daily limit for an average person. By comparison, a patty 93 percent lean would have 3 grams of saturated fat.
A 4-ounce serving of chicken with skin has 3 grams of saturated fat. Without the skin, it has one gram.
“We wholeheartedly believe in the consumers being informed,” said Mary Young, a nutritionist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Nutrition information “not only helps them understand lean cuts of meat but it also helps them understand that meat is packed with iron and zinc.”
The proposed labeling requirement wouldn’t take effect before the end of the year at the earliest.
Besides targeting saturated fat, the new dietary guidelines provide more specific choices of foods and ways to prepare them. “You can enjoy all foods as part of a healthy diet as long as you don’t overdo it on fat (especially saturated fat), sugars, salt and alcohol,” the introduction says.
The administration “totally caved” to the industry in altering the sugar section, said Margo Wootan, a nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.
“But in general the guidelines are an improvement over what they currently are,” Wootan added. “It encourages people to eat a more plant-based diet and it puts more emphasis on fruits and vegetables …”