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Giant Supermarkets: Clouding the Transparency of Meat Labeling; USDA Intervenes


Pick a steak, any steak. That’s what Giant Supermarkets now wants its customers to do. Giant stores have done a switcheroo on consumers by replacing specific labels that identify grades of meat to generic ones which offer no indication about quality–something we’ve come to expect. How else would you know which quality to buy for the undiscriminating tastes of kids, or your wife’s highly sophisticated palate? It used to be on the label.

USDA grades

Is what the supermarket chain has done illegal? No. Is it sneaky? Absolutely. And customers don’t like being fooled.

A few have called the fed’s on the store chain, complaining, out of suspicion, that Giant is going to pass off as high quality meat that is only so-so. And if that’s what they’re doing, one has to wonder what other swindles they have under their butcher’s cap.

Giant was busted. Read how. h/t: Washington Post

Retired doctor Louis Offen and his wife have been shopping at the same Giant supermarket in Bethesda, Md., for nearly 40 years. Offen is in charge of buying the steak, which normally means combing the meat section for New York strip sirloins with the label “USDA grade choice,” the mid-level grade for meat. The cut is ubiquitous.giant2

But one day last month, Offen was stumped. He couldn’t find any packages with a “choice” label. He couldn’t find lower-quality beef, called “select,” either. All he found was an unfamiliar blue crest that read “USDA graded” on every package of beef. “Isn’t all beef sold in stores USDA graded, making that label useless?” he asked.

In recent weeks, Giant stores nationwide changed their labeling procedures, making it difficult for customers to know the quality of meat. Rather than providing different options, the company labeled meat simply as “USDA graded” — a description that applies to all but a tiny amount of meat approved for sale in the United States.

Larry Meadows, a Department of Agriculture official who is one of the people charged with overseeing the nation’s meat supply, said in an interview that the action was problematic. “We’ve never seen anyone use anything like the ‘USDA graded’ label before,” said Meadows, associate deputy administrator of the USDA’s livestock, poultry and feed program. “The label is truthful, but it’s also misleading.”

Meadows said one reason a company might use a more generic label is to save money, or to blur the impact of introducing an unusually high amount of lower-quality beef.

Giant’s corporate parent, Ahold USA, which was ordered to stop the practice, acknowledged the change in labeling at its stores, which include Martin’s, Stop ’N Shop and the grocery delivery service Peapod.

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Have we consumers become so ignorant, or inattentive that marketers really think they can pull the plastic wrap over our eyes and sell inferior quality meat? In this example, it would seem so.

Anymore, we all have to be ‘informed consumers’.  Get to know prescription ingredients, drug interactions and side effects; learn to spot brand products that are identical to their less costly generic counterpart; and bolster your steak IQ. Then you’re less likely to get cheated at the check stand.

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About Author

Baron Von Kowenhoven

Baron was just a shy kid with a dream, growing up in the 40's with a knack for story-telling. After a brief career in film, Von Kowenhoven went to Europe in search of fringe-scientific discoveries and returned in the 90's to unleash them on the entertainment and political landscape of America.


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