Hank Investigates: Mystery Meat
- Andrea Fontaine, Foods Research Labs
"Bottom line, they don't have to tell you how much fat is in the product."
Here's why. You know most food products have labels that are required by the federal government to specifically list carbs, protein, sodium and fat. But five years ago, the USDA decided fresh meat is exempt from those labels. And nutrition experts say when it comes to ground beef, that's a problem.
- Bonnie Liebman, Center For Science in the Public Interest
"Supermarkets are up to their own devices to decide what kind of labeling to use."
And that's Loophole Number One. Ground beef labeling is voluntary! As a result, some stores use labels just specifying the percent of lean meat versus fat: 80 percent lean--20 percent fat. 90 percent lean--10 percent fat. But they don't specify fat grams, and that could leave meat buyers getting more fat than they bargained for.
- Bonnie Liebman
"They have no idea how much of their daily requirement of fat they're getting."
Check it out at the meat counter. On a high-quality ground beef, the label says 93 percent lean. What the label doesn't say is a three-ounce burger would have seven grams of fat.
We found that's almost as much as pizza-filled pretzels, and more than a cupcake.
A label says 85 percent lean. What it doesn't say is that's 12 grams of fat. You might as well eat a whole chocolate bar.
And a package says 75 percent lean ground beef. That's actually 17 grams of fat -- almost as much as two cream-filled chocolate cakes.
- Bonnie Liebman
"It is just inexcusable that for five years USDA has delayed requiring honest labels on ground beef."
And that brings up Loophole Number 2: Fat content may be unknown. Since ground beef isn't required to have fat labeling at all, that leaves you you're guessing what you're getting.
We picked packages from four different stores, and outside they do look the same: simply labeled "ground chuck" or "ground beef." But they don't indicate fat grams. So how much fat are you actually getting?
An independent lab compared our purchases. First, they processed the meat into a paste. Then, they dried it to take out the water and using the industry-approved method, extracted the fat.
Here's the real deal. We found packages with the same labels on the outside may have very different fat content on the inside.
- Andrea Fontaine
"We saw some ground beef had twice as much fat as some of the others purchased."
The very leanest package we bought measured 15.5 percent fat. One had 15.7 percent. One 18.5 percent, and one 31.8 percent fat!
"Were they labeled the same way?"
"They were labeled the same."
Beef producers and supermarkets insist consumers can make informed decisions using percentage labels, and they say additional information should be available at grocery stores.
- Dagmar Farr, Food Marketing Institute
"If a consumer wants the full nutrition information disclosed, they can get it, either through the back up info or posters."
But since the average American eats the equivalent of a burger every three days, some say if ground beef isn't labeled like everything else. Consumers are left buying mystery meat.
"So basically you'd have no idea what you were buying?"
"Without labeling to let them know, it really is buyer beware."
The US Department of Agriculture would not go on camera to discuss meat labeling, but we have learned it's about to take another look at the current rules and is thinking about requiring nutrition labels on every package.