European report slams ‘misleading’ meat industry practices

By Chloe Ryan, Martin Todd

- Last updated on GMT

BEUC recommendations include more frequent checks to ensure meat-based food labels are complete, accurate, and not misleading
BEUC recommendations include more frequent checks to ensure meat-based food labels are complete, accurate, and not misleading

Related tags: Meat, European union

A report based on the way meat is labelled across Europe has heavily criticised the meat industry and accused it of widespread misleading and fraudulent practices.

European consumer organisation BEUC said in its report ‘Close up on the meat we eat – consumers want honest labels​’ that it found examples of croquettes containing just half the quantity of meat declared on the label. Other concerns highlighted included sulphites being used to make minced beef look fresher and ‘veal’ in kebabs that was actually chicken.

Based on tests carried out by seven BEUC member organisations ​(Altroconsumo, Consumentenbond, DECO, dTest, OCU, Test-Achats, Which?) between April 2014 and August 2015, the report reveals numerous examples of deliberately misleading meat labels.

The organisations found meat sold across Europe either at retail or in foodservice often gave confusing product names; used incomplete labels that failed to highlight added water, for example, or which failed to declare the percentage of meat in the product; used illegal food additives; contained undeclared mechanically-separated meat; and fraudulently used another species as a substitute.

Contaminated

One example from the UK was an investigation by Which? that found 40% of lamb takeaways had been contaminated with other meats, with some containing no lamb at all. Out of 60 takeaway lamb curries and minced kebabs bought from restaurants in Birmingham and London, 24 had been mixed with other meats such as beef and chicken, while seven contained no lamb at all and five contained unidentifiable meat.

“Consumers should be able to trust the label on the food they buy. If we are serious about rebuilding confidence in meat, EU member states need to beef up controls and make sure labels are complete and accurate,”​ said Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director general. “Those purchasing fresh beef made to look as if it is 100% meat may feel deceived to discover additives in the ingredients list.

“Also, consumers buying roast pork or grilled sausages should know from the label how much meat they really contain. No one wants to buy water for the price of meat.”

Goyens told GlobalMeatNews: “EU decision-makers need to step up and enforce labelling controls more rigorously. They need to provide more resources to those whose job it is to check labels, to ensure that consumers are able to trust what they read of meat-based foods.

'Too easy to cheat'

“Those who cheat need to feel the heat, at present it is too easy to cheat; they have little incentive to follow EU regulations. The fines for those caught providing misleading or false information on their labels needs to be high enough to shake the business foundations of those caught out, their needs to be real disincentives.”

BEUC provided a number of case studies of mislabelling, for example in the Czech Republic a package of sausages had a declared meat content of 75% but when tested, the meat content was only 59%. In the Netherlands a meat croquette had only half the meat quantity stated on the label.

Tests by DECO in Portugal uncovered the illegal use of sulphites in 23 out of 26 samples of fresh minced beef bought from butchers and supermarkets in the Lisbon, Porto and Setubal regions. Sulphites can be used to prolong the shelf-life of fresh meat reddening the appearance of greying meat. In theory EU laws ban the use of sulphites in fresh meat.

Recommendations

BEUC has issued several recommendations, including more frequent checks to ensure that labels for meat-based foods are complete, accurate, and do not mislead consumers; more systematic checks on the addition of water and on its proper declaration on the label; that member states put greater emphasis on controlling the types and amounts of food additives used; and that food fraud remains at the top of the agenda for the EU and member states.

The full report can be found by clicking on the link on the BEUC website. http://www.beuc.eu/press-media/news-events/beuc-new-report-unveils-dishonest-meat-labels​ 

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