The Food Standards Agency and 20 local authorities across the UK have joined forces to expose and tackle the continuing practice of adding undeclared water and animal protein to chicken destined for restaurants and takeaways. 

The problem was first exposed in an FSA survey published in December 2001. The FSA said that results published today reveal that these practices are continuing, and provide the evidence on which local authorities can now consider formal enforcement action.

Today’s results show that the labels on more than half the samples surveyed claimed to have a higher meat content than was actually the case. Almost three quarters used the description chicken ‘breast’ or ‘fillet’, which should only be used for chicken with no added ingredients; almost half contained traces of DNA from pigs and all but one of these were labelled as Halal. All of the samples were taken from wholesalers dealing primarily with the catering trade.

“We know that in some cases consumers are not always getting what they pay for and the Food Standards Agency is determined to stamp this out. What is even more unacceptable is the total disregard as to how offensive this is to Muslim communities who may be eating food which is forbidden by their religious beliefs. For this reason, we have identified the brands so that people catering for these communities can take action themselves to avoid them,” David Statham, Director of Enforcement at the Food Standards Agency, said.

“Armed with the results from this exercise, our local authority colleagues are now deciding what action would be appropriate to take against the wholesalers. We have also passed this information to our counterparts in the Netherlands, who have responsibility for taking action against the manufacturers.”

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This exercise is part of an ongoing investigation into processed chicken used by the catering industry. 25 samples were taken from wholesalers and one manufacturing site across the UK. This chicken was processed in one of 10 EU plants; one in the UK, two in Belgium and seven in the Netherlands. The sampling was designed to target companies on the basis of the results from the first survey, to see if improvements had been made after these practices were first exposed. The most sophisticated and sensitive scientific techniques available were used to ensure that the ingredients were measured as accurately as possible.

During processing, ingredients including water and in some cases hydrolysed protein, generally made from chicken or other animal skins, can be added. Often this is to ‘bulk up’ the chicken, making it appear larger than it really is. Whilst adding these ingredients to the chicken is legally permitted, they must be clearly labelled. The percentage of meat content must also be accurately labelled.

The results of the survey showed that:

  • 15 out of 25 samples claimed on the label to have between 5% and 25% more meat than was actually present

  • 9 of these claimed to have at least 10% more meat than was actually present

  • 18 of the samples used the description ‘chicken breast’ or ‘fillet’ – this should only be used for chicken with no added ingredients

  • 12 samples contained ‘non-chicken’ DNA – 11 of these showed the presence of pork, one tested positive for both pork and beef DNA

  • 11 of the samples containing ‘non-chicken’ DNA were labelled as Halal