Some restaurants and take-aways may be serving their customers chicken
which only contains 54% chicken, despite labelling that claims a higher
meat content, according to a joint investigation by the Food Standards
Agency and 22 local authorities across the UK into chicken sold to the
catering trade. The survey also revlealed that 35 out of the 68 samples
were mislabelled.

The five month investigation has led to the publication of a survey today
that reveals the actual, rather than the claimed levels, of meat content in
chicken breasts sold to the catering trade. Two of the chicken breasts were
found to contain pork DNA, indicating the presence of material derived from
pork.

The survey tested 68 samples taken from wholesalers and cash and carry
stores from around the UK that supply the catering trade. The samples came
from processors mainly in the Netherlands but also Belgium, the UK and
Spain. In most cases the chicken breasts came from third countries
including Brazil and Thailand.

When the chickens breasts arrive in Europe they are processed to include
the addition of water, salts, sugars, flavourings and, in some cases,
hydrolysed protein before packaging and refreezing. In some cases, these
combinations are used to bulk up the chicken breasts and increase their
weight.  These can also have the effect of retaining the added water in the
chicken breast when it is cooked. For example, in the worst case a 100gm
portion of chicken breast would become 182gm through these additions.
Photographs and full details of the survey are available from
www.food.gov.uk.

The FSA received information from local authorities and some parts of the
trade earlier this year indicating that hydrolised protein was being used
to bulk up chicken breasts. The standard test for water in chicken does not
detect water added using this technique. The FSA obtained samples of
hydrolised protein and, working with the Laboratory of the Government
Chemist clarified which testing methods would uncover water added with the
use of these proteins and techniques.

The labelling on the catering packs was misleading in that:

  •    46% of the samples had a meat content of between 5% and 26%
  •    less than that declared on the packaging
  •   12% had incorrect quality descriptions, ones which should only be used
       for products without added ingredients
  •   16 of the samples used hydrolysed proteins, but only two were labelled
       as such.

Food Standards Agency chairman Sir John Krebs said today:

" Consumers eating out don't expect their chickens to contain large amounts
of added water, nor do they expect their chicken to contain material
derived from pork. Customers rely on restaurateurs, who in turn rely on
wholesalers and importers to know exactly what it is they are buying and
selling. British importers and wholesalers have a responsibility to be
vigilant on behalf of the UK consumer. Local authorities have shown that
they are able to prosecute where there is evidence of the law being broken.

" This joint investigation has already shaken this market with some
suppliers withdrawing their products and changing their production
processes. This survey used good science to crack  a difficult
investigation. There will be those who will seek to mislead consumers. They
need to know that the FSA will work with the relevant authorities
througbout Europe to expose them."

The Food Standards Agency has written to the relevant enforcement bodies in
the Netherlands and Belgium with the findings of this survey. The Agency
has also informed the Consumer Protection Director General of the European
Commission, to draw their attention to the findings.

Added water is not in itself necessarily illegal, if the meat and other
ingredients are accurately labelled. However the survey reveals that the
labelling is often not correct and there is less meat than claimed in many
products. In other cases hydrolysed protein was simply not declared. All
these practices contravene European labelling law. As none of the samples
taken for this survey listed any ingredients derived from pork, the Food
Standards Agency also believes that this too is inaccurate labelling

This survey was a follow-up to a survey last year of supermarket and retail
chicken and chicken parts. This work has been taken forward by the Food
Standards Agency and the 22 local authorities who participated in the
surveyed, in co-operation with the Trading Standards Institute. The local
authorities involved were: Aberdeen, Bath and North East Somerset, Belfast,
Derbyshire, Hampshire, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire,
London Borough of Brent, London Borough of Croydon, Manchester, Newport,
Nottingham City, Nottinghamshire, North East Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire,
Poole, Sandwell, Tameside, West Yorkshire, Wolverhampton and
Worcestershire.