The FSA has discovered beef and pork protein in chicken. Following complaints from customers about unusually rubbery chicken, the FSA has revealed that eight manufacturers have been adulterating their chicken with water and foreign proteins. This is not in itself illegal, but the failure to correctly label the chicken is. Unless the industry takes action to end such abuses, the market will continue to decline.

The FSA's announcement that it has found excess water and both beef and pork protein in chicken from no less than eight suppliers will do little to reassure consumers who already regard meat with suspicion.

Investigations by the FSA have discovered that some chicken intended for the catering industry has had its weight boosted with water, in a process known as 'tumbling', and perhaps more seriously includes added beef or pork protein taken from skin, bone and connective tissue. As all but one of the brands claimed to be halal, this is a serious breach of consumers' trust.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this story for consumers is that none of the adulteration of the chicken was, or is, illegal - it is only the failure to correctly identify the meat and water content that has aroused the wrath of the FSA.

British consumers are already very skeptical about the conditions under which most meat is prepared, and this will not do much to alter that opinion. Around 46% of the British population are currently 'meat reducers' - not following a full blown vegetarian diet, but cutting down on meat intake for perceived health reasons. This is a trend that is set to continue. It is estimated that 50% of British consumers will be on reduced meat diets by 2006.

As FSA spokesmen have remarked, the motivation for this treatment of chicken is obvious: suppliers are essentially selling water and charging for chicken, which is bound to be profitable - at least in the short term.

However, incidents like this have a negative effect on the whole market and the industry is going to have to take responsibility for improving matters. The development of a rigorous set of standards, enforced by an autonomous, respected body (with input from independent bodies such as consumer associations) would go a long way towards improving consumers' trust and reversing a well-established trend of declining meat consumption.

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