You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

US consumers will get simpler labels on meat

Boneless pork loins and other cuts of meat will have labels that are easier to understand in the future (below).

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press/file 2011

Boneless pork loins and other cuts of meat will have labels that are easier to understand in the future (below).

Do not know your pork butts from your rump roasts? It might be getting a little easier.

The meat industry is rolling out a refresh of the often confusing 40-year-old system used for naming the various cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal. The system — the Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards, or URMIS — was designed more for the needs of retailers and butchers than for the convenience of harried shoppers more familiar with Shake ‘n Bake than boneless shank cuts.

Continue reading below

Meat counter confusion is not good for sales. So after nearly two years of research, the National Pork Board, the Beef Checkoff Program, and US agriculture officials have signed off on an updated labeling system that should hit stores in time for prime grilling season.

More than 350 cuts of pork and beef (veal and lamb updates will come later) will sport the new labels, which include not only simplified names, but also detailed characteristics of the meat and cooking guidelines. So what once was called pork butt — and actually does not come from the pig’s nether region — will now be called a Boston roast and be described as a bone-in pork shoulder.

“The problem is consumers didn’t really understand the names that were being used, and still don’t,” said Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the Pork Board. “The names confused consumers to the point where they’d go, ‘You know, the information doesn’t help me know how to use it, so I’m going to stop using it.’ ”

Where appropriate, the new labels also will use universal terms across species — a bone-in loin cut will be called a T-bone whether it’s pork or beef.

Interest in food as entertainment is at an all-time high, but knowledge of food and cooking has ebbed. Farmers’ markets are booming, but so is the processed food industry. Still, more people ask  questions, and the massive meat industry (pork and beef account for nearly $40 billion in annual sales) is hoping to answer them.

Though the URMIS system is voluntary, nearly 85 percent of retailers use it. Those who do not must use alternative federally approved labels or submit their own for approval.

Though the new names may catch on, cookbooks and recipes could call meats by different names. Will people know to buy a New York chop if a pork recipe calls for a top loin chop?

“The intent certainly was not to confuse consumers, but there are some situations where that certainly could happen,” said Bucky Gwartney, a federal marketing specialist who worked to formulate the changes. “Even though some of these changes were fairly dramatic, they were still grounded in the original cut.”

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week