WASHINGTON -- Anyday now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will start inspecting retail meat departments across the country, looking for stores that have not posted the correct nutrition information about meat in compliance with voluntary federal guidelines.
If the government agency is not satisfied with the level of industry compliance it finds, those voluntary guidelines will be replaced with mandatory regulations.
The prospect of mandated labeling for the fresh meat department has trade groups such as the Food Marketing Institute worried enough to have shipped thousands of new labeling kits to retailers.
The kits, shipped to retailers in mid-April, are called Meat and Poultry Nutri-Facts Update -- Third Edition, and include materials for posting required nutritional information on the 45 most popular cuts of meat and poultry.
The key word is Update; trade group officials warn that older versions of the Nutri-Facts information will not meet the government's guidelines.
"The earlier version of Nutri-Facts was the industry's own idea," said Sherrie Rosenblatt, manager of media relations for FMI here.
"Now, we have changed Nutri-Facts so that it is reflective of the government's guidelines. We never did go out to see how many stores have been using the old Nutri-Facts material, but based on many informal conversations it is apparent that a lot of retailers had put it out there," Rosenblatt added.
The trouble is that could mean a lot of incorrect labeling kits are still standing in departments all over the nation and must be replaced with the latest Nutri-Facts.
To fight the dangers of either complacence or procrastination among grocers, FMI and other associations -- such as the National Grocers Association, National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association and meat industry trade groups -- will spearhead a local-level campaign to encourage retail follow-through on a store by store basis, Rosenblatt said.
"We are telling all our contacts in the field, from regional directors to state associations and so on, to be looking in stores, watching for compliance and getting the message out."