Urgent action needed over ‘watered down’ pork

by 5m Editor
15 July 2004, at 12:00am

UK - The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) today pressed the Government’s Food Standards Agency to intervene now that sections of the food industry have started to add water to fresh meat.

A snapshot survey of uncooked pork on sale in supermarkets, conducted by Shropshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service, revealed that raw pork with added water was being sold alongside genuine uncooked pork often at a premium price.

TSI wants the Government’s Food Standards Agency to step in to make sure meat which has added water is labelled more clearly so that consumers are aware of what they are paying for.

The Institute’s rallying call has won the support of the National Consumer Council, the Consumers’ Association and Sustain.

The Shropshire survey revealed:

  • some products with added water contained as little as 87% meat;

  • the average cost of pork loin steaks was 36.92 per kg, while the average cost of pork loin steaks ‘with added water’ was 37.30 per kg;

  • some of the diluted meats were being sold as ‘premium products’ at a premium price;

  • the ‘added water’ meat was on display directly alongside fresh raw meat;

  • some companies claimed the meat was ‘basted’ - a cooking term which is totally inappropriate to describe meat which has been injected with water.

David Walker, TSI spokesman and Shropshire’s Chief Trading Standards Officer, said: ‘The practice of adding water to ham and chicken products is already commonplace but, until now, at least consumers could be sure that raw meat was genuine.

’Some supermarkets and at least one manufacturer have now started to add water to raw pork. This is being sold alongside genuine raw pork, causing confusion for shoppers. The actual meat in some of the products is as low as 87%.

‘The reference to ‘added water’ is in the small print and incredibly some of the products with added water are promoted as ‘premium’ brands with extra ‘succulence’. This means that consumers are sometimes being asked to pay more for meat with the added water that they might not fully appreciate was present in the first place.’

David added, ‘experience has shown that, once individual companies adopt a marketing practice of this sort, the practice very quickly spreads. This could be the thin end of a very large wedge.

’Consumers can anticipate more and more adulterated products with less and less meat - unless something is done and done very quickly. We understand that the Food Standards Agency has decided to draw up plans for clearer labelling and these would be most welcome.’

The TSI and Shropshire County Council are calling for:

  • the reference to ‘added water’ on the meat label to be in the same size lettering as the description of the meat itself to make sure that shoppers can distinguish between products at a glance;

  • meat products with added water to be placed in a separate supermarket section clearly labelled ‘meats with added water’, so that consumers can know where to look to find either raw or processed meat;

  • companies to revise labels on some ‘added water’ products that currently claim to be ‘basted’, or ‘basted for succulence’. Basting is a process involving the addition of fat during cooking, not water prior to sale.

Ron Gainsford, Chief Executive of TSI, said: ‘Whatever the reasons for adding water to pork consumers need to know exactly what they are being asked to pay for so that they can make their own, informed choices.

‘This is why we are asking for urgent action to improve labelling.’

Sue Davies, Principal Policy Adviser for the Consumers' Association, said: ‘It is outrageous that consumers are being duped into buying fresh meat with water added to it and then asked to pay more for the privilege.

’This is little more than old-fashioned food adulteration and the industry and Food Standards Agency must ensure that if these products continue to be sold, they can’t be confused with fresh meat.’

Diane Gaston, Head of Corporate Affairs for the National Consumer Council, added: 'People are being asked to pay over the odds for fresh meat that has had water added. On the face of it, this is a sharp practice and, at the very least, consumers need clear labelling so they can make up their own minds about best value.'

For more information please contact Lou Thomas at the TSI Press Office on 0870 872 9030.

Source: Trading Standards Institute - 15th July 2004

5m Editor