The US Department of Agriculture is proposing new labelling requirements to make it clear to consumers when meat has been injected with water, salt or other marinades.

The department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said on Thursday (21 July) that some labels do not clearly identify if a solution has been added to a raw product to enhance flavour or texture. Consumers, the FSIS said, may be purchasing raw meat and poultry products with a higher sodium content than they realise.

Under the present regulations, raw meat and poultry products that contain added solutions such as water, teriyaki sauce, salt or a mixture thereof may have the same name on their labels as products that do not contain added solutions.

For example, the FSIS said a chicken breast with added solution and a single-ingredient chicken breast may both be labelled as chicken breast, even though one package contains purely chicken and the other might be 60% chicken and 40% solution.

While the chicken breast that contains solution must state that it contains solution, consumers may not notice such information if it's not part of the product's name, the FSIS said.

"Consumers should be able to make an informed choice in the store, which is why we need to provide clear, informative labels that will help consumers make the best decisions about feeding their families," said under secretary for food safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "It has become evident that some raw meat and poultry labels, even those that follow our current guidelines, may not be clear."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) welcomed the proposed rule, saying that consumers were being "cheated" by products that had been enhanced with solution.

"Besides cheating customers financially, ‘enhancing' meat and poultry delivers a stealth hit of sodium," said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. "Better labelling would help consumers concerned about high blood pressure, stroke, or heart disease avoid products that contribute to those diseases."

According to the non-profit group, chicken breasts, pork tenderloins or other foods enhanced with a salt-water solution can have more than five times as much sodium as what occurs naturally in those foods.

It said that some 30% of poultry, 15% of beef and 90% of pork contain added solutions.