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New labeling system may minimize meat mystery


Find yourself befuddled at the butcher counter by terms like “top loin chop” and “pork rump”? A new consumer-friendly, universal meat labeling system is about to help cut through the confusion.

Two of the country’s largest meat councils, the National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program, have unanimously agreed to implement a more uniform and descriptive labeling system for commercially-sold cuts. The revised Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards or URMIS was developed in conjunction with the with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Food Safety Inspection Service, and introduces a new common name standard designed to help consumers make more informed shopping decisions.

The system, which will apply to 350 cuts of beef and pork (with lamb and veal to join later) introduces a label that includes:

  • A consumer-friendly name: sirloin tip roast, loin roast or kabobs
  • The kind of meat, any identifier to differentiate cuts with the same common name, bone presence and cutting standard (like thickness or muscle): “beef, bone-in,” “pork, boneless,” “pork, shoulder, boneless”
  • A preparation method or other helpful information: “Grill for best results”

URMIS was originally implemented in 1973 in an attempt to regulate a system in which labeling consisted of a piece of tape and a marker. By the industry’s own admission, the overly-anatomical and non-standardized naming created something of a roadblock for shoppers who were sometimes unsure what they were being offered, how to cook it, or even what animal it came from. Customers would default to buying the few cuts with which they were familiar, leaving more mysterious meats to languish in meat department freezers.

The new standards were developed over an 18-month period of consumer and industry research and approved on a conference call by members of the Industry-Wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee. Processed meats, grinds and offal do not fall under URMIS labeling guidelines.

The current system is voluntary, but is used by 85% of the industry. Retailers that do not employ it must use alternative, federally-approved labels or submit their own for inspection. Consumers should start seeing the new labels by sometime this summer — just in time for grilling season.