James J. Kilpatrick has changed newspapers but not his habit of playing loosely with the facts ["Reagan's New Beef," op-ed, Aug. 12].

The first regulations governing mechanically processed meat were issued in 1976 by the Ford administration. A U.S. District Court threw the regulations out on grounds they violated the Federal Meat Inspection Act requirements that products be safe and accurately labeled. The judge ruled that mechanically processed meat was not "meat" as traditionally defined. It is composed of meat, marrow, connective tissue and some powdered bone. He order the U.S. Department of Agriculture to show the safety of the product and to require accurate labeling.

Complying with this order, the Carter administration completed a study showing limited use of the product was safe. We required labels to state, immediately under the name of the product, that the product contains mechanically processed meat and a specified percentage of powdered bone. With these limits, sale of the product was approved despite an overwhelming majority of public comments urging that it be banned completely.

The label standard is not unique. It is identical to labels required when other "non-traditional" ingredients are added to the ground beef or pork and spices consumers expert to be used in processed meats. For example, frankfurters containing non-fat dry milk must state this in a phrase directly under the product name, not just in the small-type listing of ingredients.

The reason is simple. Non-fat dry milk and mechanically processed meat are cheaper than meat. Products containing them should sell more cheaper than all-meat products, and consumers should be able to determine quickly and easily why one frank is higher priced than another.

The meat industry has chosen not to use mechanically processed meat as long as this labeling is required. It argues that no one will buy it. No market tests have been conducted to determine if this is the case or if the product, accurately labeled, would take its place alongside lower priced hot dogs and bologna.

The new USDA proposal will encourage the sale of this cheaper product at prices comparable to more expensive all-meat products by eliminating the information labeling. It is a curious way to fight inflation.

As for Kilpatrick's continuing references to me as "the dragon lady," they say more about his attitude toward women than they do about my performance in office.