A sixteen-month investigation into food fraud in Europe has revealed a tapestry of criminal activity across the meat industry including substitution, the use of undeclared mechanically separated meat, inadequate and incorrect labelling and deception around meat quantities.
The frauds came to light after seven EU consumer groups carried out tests on meats sold in their countries between April 2014 and August 2015. A report published by the European consumer organisation BEUC reveals that consumers are continuing to be duped when buying meat products despite lessons learnt from the horsemeat scandal. Research carried out in the UK by the consumer group Which? a year after the horsemeat scandal found 40 per cent of lamb takeaways had been contaminated with other meats with some containing no lamb at all. Out of 60 takeaway lamb curries and minced kebabs bought from restaurants in Birmingham and London 24 had been mixed with other meats, seven contained no lamb at all and five contained unidentifiable meat that had been over cooked or re-cooked.
Investigations in Spain and Italy found that substituting poultry or turkey for veal was commonplace. Twenty out of 25 veal kebab samples analysed in Spain were found to contain chicken with six containing more than 60 per cent chicken. In Italy some ‘veal products’ were found to contain only turkey. In France tests on fresh sausage, merguez, kebabs, salamis and cured meats found the presence of undeclared pork in 11 per cent of samples and poultry in 5 per cent. Tests in Spain highlighted the ‘frequent presence’ of undeclared poultry and turkey mechanically separated meat (MSM) in kebabs sold to consumers as veal. The presence of MSM is often revealed by higher than expected calcium levels in meat. MSM is derived from meat scraps left on animal carcasses containing calcium. Undeclared MSM was also found in a popular type of salami bought in Czech Republic and Slovakia. Audits by EU food and Veterinary Office have found MSM to be misleadingly or fraudulently described in products as ‘Baader meat’, ‘viande gros grains’, ‘ground meat 3mm’ or even ‘minced meat’.
Prof. Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast, and author of the “Elliott review into food integrity” in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, said: ‘It is clear that food fraud is happening on a wide scale across Europe and that meat, particularly processed meat is highly vulnerable. I have a strong belief that when fraud is looked for in a targeted and systematic approach it will be found and will be linked to organised criminal activity.’
Other frauds revealed in the report include the bulking out of meat products with water and the misuse of additives particularly in “marinated meats” that sit in a grey area between ‘meat preparations’ and ‘meat products’ that are allowed to use a greater number of additives.
The BEUC report is calling for more frequent checks on labels for meat-based products along with more systematic controls on the addition of water and stricter controls on the use of food additives. The consumer groups are also calling for food fraud to remain high on the EU agenda with the need for the Council and European Parliament to provide 'an effective legal framework to better detect, dissuade and punish fraud.’
Prof Elliott said: ‘I fully support BEUC's view on keeping food fraud high on the EU agenda and think the same message is needed for our own and other EU governments.’