If you’re a meat customer but don’t know a rump roast from a pork butt, help is on the way.

The American meat industry is updating what was an old and confusing labeling system that has been used for more than 40 years to name cuts of pork, beef, lamb and veal. Unfortunately, the meat-naming system – known as the Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards – wasn’t designed to help consumers at all. It was set up for the demands of butchers and meat retailers and not for customers trying to find the right cut of meat to cook at home. What the meat industry realized is that on top of other PR problems, ignorance and confusion about the types of meats available in store counters doesn’t help meat sales.

New labeling system

Players in the industry, including the National Pork Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Checkoff Program, as well as federal officials from the US Dept. of Agriculture, conducted consumer research and formulated, after several years of work, a new and updated meat-labeling system. The new labeling protocol was rolled out in retail stores just in time for the 2013 grilling season.

More than 350 new labeling titles for cuts of beef and pork have been introduced. These titles include easier and simplified names, but also detailed descriptions of the meat itself – and cooking guidelines and instructions. For example, what was once labeled as “pork butt,” which by the way comes from the shoulder, will now be called a “Boston roast” and be described to consumers as a bone-in pork shoulder. Some have questioned if this is, indeed an improvement. Is Boston necessarily more descriptive? What does “bone-in pork shoulder” mean to the consumer?

The real problem is customers didn’t necessarily understand the names being used for many years. As a result, consumers would shy away from using products whose names or labels they didn’t understand. To that end, the pork and beef industry has been working with USDA officials to make some major changes in labeling and titles. They include using similar or identical names across species lines.

For example, a bone-in loin cut will be labeled a T-bone, whether it’s beef or pork. And sirloin steak used to be named beef-loin top-sirloin steak, boneless. Now it will be called: sirloin steak. That makes sense!

For many industry planners, the change to start making things easier to understand in the world of beef and pork comes just in time because there’s a great deal of interest in food in this country, albeit entertainment-based interest more than anything else. Programming focused on instructing people how to make food has declined. And knowledge about food and how to cook continues to wane. While a lot of consumers talk about shopping at farmers markets, the processed-food industry is skyrocketing.

But the meat industry has taken it upon itself to try and remove some of the confusion that surrounds cuts of meat, what they’re called, and how they’re labeled. Part of the problem for this confusion has been that meat-label titles and the labels themselves are regulated by the USDA. And while the Uniform Retail Standards are voluntary, not compulsory, most retailers use it. Stores not wanting to use the Uniform Retail Standards system must design alternative labels for USDA approval or use a different set of labels also approved by Uncle Sam.

While butchers and meat retailers understood the old terms, consumers didn’t and many still won’t. Consumers want to know what the piece of meat is and how to cook it so it will be pleasing to them and their families.