Shoppers unknowingly paying for meat juice

May 19, 2009 5:34:26 PM PDT
With so many people struggling in the economy, the last thing you want is to pay for food you are not going to eat. 7 on Your Side's Michael Finney says you may be doing just that.

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7 on Your Side predicted last fall that this was going to happen and now it has. What is essentially a waste product is being counted as meat and consumers are paying for it. After ABC7's stories aired in the fall, a group of California officials is heading to Washington to try and get more meat for your money.

If you buy packaged meat you may notice a liquid that collects at the bottom.

"I get rid of it. Throw it in the garbage," said one grocery shopper.

"I doubt anybody in America uses that juice," said another.

In the past you never had to pay for the goop in the tray. But, all that has changed. Now you are paying for it and at the same price as the meat.

"Wow. That just doesn't seem right," said the first shopper when he found out.

"So, how you gonna charge me for water?" asked another.

This is all because the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the rules so California law no longer applies. Now, California has joined the rest of the country and must allow meat packers to charge for this fluid.

"That's very unfair to the consumer," said one customer.

"Obviously as a consumer, how do we change it?" asked another.

The California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association has gone to Washington hoping to persuade the new president to restore the old California rules.

"A new administration's coming in. They're going to hopefully see things in a different way," said Tim Cansler.

Cansler is lobbying on behalf of commissioners. He wrote to the President and he also launched a website which links to the 7 on Your Side report that exposed the issue last fall. The report showed it can be hard to know how much fluid is in some packages. Much of it is left over water from processing.

"In some packages we opened up there was a third of a pound of liquid in there. So, at $5 a pound you could expect to pay about $1.50," said Weights and Measures Inspector Mary Ryhanick.

Multiply that by the billions of pounds we eat and it adds up fast. The State Department of Agriculture says excess liquid will cost Californians $246 million a year.

The California Poultry Federation says this is fair because processed meat packers already get to add brine or marinade. "It levels the playing field and makes labeling more consistent for consumers who we think will like this new dry tare method," said Bill Mattos with the federation.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier disagrees.

"On just fundamental principal, you shouldn't have to pay for water in your packaged meat or poultry, and we should change that," she said.

Speier says she will ask the USDA to let California set its own standards.

But is the USDA ready to do that? 7 on Your Side asked and a flat "no" was the response. A spokesman said, "We have had communication with the California sealers about a range of approaches to the issue they raise, which is what they consider to be excess moisture in product.''

For now, consumers will continue paying for meat juice.

"I guess now that you're paying for it, I guess you could stick it in a soup or something. I don't know," said a grocery shopper.

To protect yourself when buying meat simply read the label. By law, the percentage of added liquid must be disclosed.

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