The UK’s Food Standards Agency is recommending to the European Commission new measures to “prevent very high levels of unnecessary water being added to chicken”.

The new measures include introducing a maximum amount of water that may be added to chicken and banning the use of non-chicken proteins 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.

The FSA said that 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.

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

The FSA said that as beef and pork proteins are added solely for the purpose of enabling the product to hold very high levels of water, the need for the addition of these proteins to chicken would become redundant if the amount of added water were limited to 15%.