FSA takes further action to crack down on water in chicken scam

UK - A press release by the FSA which recommends new measures to the European Commission to prevent very high levels of unnecessary water being added to chicken.
calendar icon 19 June 2003
clock icon 5 minute read

The new measures being recommended to the European Commission are are:

  • capping at 15% the amount of water that may be added to chicken
  • banning the use of non-chicken proteins (such as beef and pork) in chicken

The action follows two surveys by the Agency in the UK (December 2001 and March 2003) that revealed some chicken pieces had as much as 55% added water. In some cases beef and pork proteins were used to retain the very high levels of added water.

Under European law it is not illegal to add water or animal proteins if the product is accurately labelled.

The FSA surveys also revealed that many products were mislabelled and twenty local authorities are considering formal enforcement action against the relevant companies.

Dutch authorities have reported that they have taken formal enforcement action against five companies processing chicken products in the Netherlands, which is at the centre of this industry.

Agency Chairman Sir John Krebs said: 'The Agency uncovered this scam and has been working with local authorities to stamp it out. We have also provided information to the Dutch authorities to aid their prosecutions.

'However, under European law it is not illegal to add huge amounts of water or beef and pork proteins to chicken as long as this appears on the label. It may be legal but it doesn't make it acceptable.

'The only reason to add the proteins is to pump up the water to high levels. That's a recipe for ripping consumers off. That is why we consider that the amount of water that can be added to chicken should be limited and the use of non-chicken proteins banned.'

There are currently no legal limits on the amount of water that can be added to chicken and poultry products.

The Agency is proposing measures to the European Commission that would limit the amount of added water to 15% in chicken and poultry products.

Beef and pork proteins are added solely for the purpose of enabling the product to hold very high levels of water.

So if the amount of added water were limited to 15%, the need for the addition of these proteins to chicken would become redundant.

However, to ensure such practices are stopped the Agency is also proposing that there be a ban on adding non-chicken proteins to chicken.

Pending action by the EU, the Agency plans to discuss with stakeholders ways in which it is possible to deal with these issues.

Additional Information

  • Between 2-7% water is absorbed by chicken during normal processing. Some manufacturers like to add further water above these levels to retain succulence in cooked products, as chicken can lose approximately 15% of water during cooking.

  • The amount of water added to the chicken tested by the Agency ranged up to as much as 55% in one sample. This sample, described as 'Chicken Breast Meat', actually only contained 41% chicken meat. Many of the other samples tested only contained between 50-60% chicken and nearly half the samples had a meat content that was less than that declared on the label.

  • Ninety-three samples were taken in total by the Agency in two surveys. 13 contained pork DNA and one contained both pork and beef DNA, all but one of these 14 samples were labelled as Halal.

  • The Agency's March 2003 survey showed that almost three-quarters of the products wrongly used the description 'chicken breast' or 'chicken fillet.' Under the European Poultrymeat Marketing Regulations, these terms should only be used for fresh chicken pieces with no added ingredients.

  • Wolverhampton City Council successfully prosecuted one of the suppliers of mislabelled chicken product in June 2002. Following the second survey in March 2003, 20 of the local authorities who took part are also considering enforcement action.

  • In the Netherlands, the Dutch authorities have taken formal enforcement action against five companies processing chicken products in the Netherlands. Four of these companies were targeted after their activities were highlighted by the Agency's work in the UK.

  • The proposals from the Agency are intended to apply to all poultry products, including chicken and turkey

Source: Food Standards Agency - 19th June 2003
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