Bangers and burgers – what are they really made of?

by , Senior Food Researcher Consumer Rights 14 June 2013
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We’ve been investigating which meat products offer the best value for money per kilo of meat. But some labelling of products sold on deli counters is at risk – do you want to know exactly what you’re getting?

Sausages on a barbecue

In the July issue of Which? magazine we’re investigating the true cost of meat products like sausages and burgers.

Apart from brands such as Richmond, Wall’s and Bird’s Eye, we found that the meat content increases the more you paid for a product. Not too surprising really. We also found that there are restrictions about what body parts of the animal can be used and what counts as meat (and the levels of fat and connective tissue this meat can contain).

Sausages - cost per kilo of meat

This will surprise the six in 10 UK adults who thought that manufacturers could use all parts of the animal in meat products.

Do you read the label?

In our new survey, eight in 10 of you told us that you check the ingredients and meat content on labelling. However, proposed government changes could weaken the level of protection offered to consumers. The government in England is proposing to scrap rules around giving the full name of the food and the Qualitative Ingredients Declarations (QUID) on meat products sold loose.

If these changes go ahead meat products sold loose (as in not pre-packed), such as ham for example, wouldn’t have to label the meat content or how much water the product contained. This would apply to meat being sold at the butcher, on a supermarket meat counter, in a deli or farmers’ market, etc.

For example, if there were three similar sausages, you wouldn’t know that one contained 60% meat, another 85% meat and the other 97% meat. So you wouldn’t be able to work out which you would prefer or which offered better value for money.

We oppose decriminalising violations

Currently, non-compliance with the meat and food information regulations is a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of £5000. However, the governments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are proposing to decriminalise food-labelling violations.

Which? opposes these proposed changes. They send a message that food fraud and misleading labelling will not be taken seriously and might encourage more unscrupulous  traders to try their luck in making a fast buck.

Do you think the government is doing enough to protect the public from food fraud?

20 comments

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Em

Could you please include a reference or link to the “proposed changes”?

There is often a trade-off between the cost and practicality to the food industry of accurate labelling and the need for the consumer to understand exactly what they are eating. If the regulations are too difficult to implement, the label itself may become misleading to the consumer through no fault of the supplier.

If I’m really fixated about exactly what has gone into my processed food, I would rather make it myself from raw ingredients. And, yes, I do sometimes make my own sausages. If I then found out that the pork meat I used had been adulterated with some other animal protein or filler (water, starch, etc.) I did not know about, that is clearly unacceptable.

But if I choose to buy commercially-made sausages, my prima facie expections covered by other laws and regulations are:

i) they will be safe to eat and fit for human consumption,

ii) the general description is not misleading e.g. pork sausages primarily contain pork meat.

Only then do I need to concern myself with whether the label is a representative indication of what I am about to eat, but it is not an exact “recipe” for making those sausages in a factory environment.

So I would be interested to know more about what regulations are being relaxed, and the rationale for decriminalising labelling violations before jumping on the soapbox.

Hi Em,

The proposed changes to labelling rules were consulted on earlier this year. You can find the details of the consulation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/food-information-regulations-fir-2013.

We produced separate responses for different parts of the UK – here’s our response for England (PDF): http://www.staticwhich.co.uk/documents/pdf/food-information-regulations-2013—which-response-314826.pdf. We called for plans to decriminalise failure to comply with most food labelling laws to be scrapped.

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Em

Hi Katie,

Thank you very much for your reply and cleaning up my original post.

This is exactly the kind of background material I was hoping for. I am also not clear why you wouldn’t have initially included your response to the consulation document. It shows Which? in a good light and is indicative of the work going on behind the scenes that some members may not be aware of.

There’s a lot to read here. I may or may not have anything to add, but I appreciate the update to my request so that I have an understanding of which piece of legislation this relates to. Thanks again, Em.

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Dead Eye Dicky

The majority of people in the UK eat enough food to survive and, except for junk food over-eaters, live healthily. It isn’t so much the actual protein content in sausages and burgers most of us worry about, its the taste. I trust our local butcher and his sausages, made on the premices, taste great. We also have a mini-Tesco very close by and I will never eat a sausage from there again even if Tesco offer to pay me. They were cheaper but the saving was wasted on the fox who checks out our garden for food every night. He\she is less fussy.

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Figgerty

I buy my sausages, about once a month, in either the not so local butchers or in Waitrose. I usually prefer a pork sausage with herbs or pork and leek, than plain pork. I have occasionally bought lamb sausages and they are very tasty. If I tried to make my own sausages, it would turn into a scene from ‘I love Lucy’, so I leave it to the professionals.

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wavechange

I have never bought sausages or burgers because there is so much opportunity to put anything into them. I have given up mince too, since the local butcher closed. I prefer to buy meat that looks like meat. It does not have to be expensive and I don’t eat it every day, so I probably spend less than those who buy sausages and burgers.

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uk

So what is the reason this sham of a government is proposing to scrap rules around giving the full name of the food and the Qualitative Ingredients Declarations (QUID) on meat products sold loose? Business been lobbying them as usual?
Why is it only England?
And why is there a proposal to decriminalise food-labelling violations?
Seems a lot of unanswered questions need answering.
I dont know about anybody else but I’m getting sick of the way this government doesnt do a thing about consumer interests unless a campaign has to be launched or its dragged kicking and screaming through the Euro courts (e.g. mobile charges)
Now we have Camoron blowing the trumpet for GM foods to be grown here.
No and NO again.

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Em

I don’t know about anyone else here, but I’m getting sick of the way everything on Which? Convo gets hijacked by some party political activist. State Pensions and now Pork Sausages. What else can we blame the Government for?

This is not a propaganda site and consumers in the UK are (last time I checked) free to support any MP or politcal party they want to. So do not start blaming the current or any previous government – or a dead Prime Minister – without knowing the facts of the matter first, which clearly most of us do not. That is why I’ve asked for some clarification about what has prompted this Convo.

And before anyone asks, I do not support Convervatives, Labour or any other party. My “vote” counts for absolutely nothing, as I live in a very safe Tory constituency in the South of England. As I’ve be disenfanchised for my entire voting life, frankly it is irrelevant to me and I suspect most people in this country as to who is in power.

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wavechange

I totally agree, Em. I am interested in consumer issues and not politics. Blatant selfishness annoys me most but people thrusting their political views on me are not welcome.

It concerns me that the government is planning to scrap rules that have been put in place for consumer protection. I look forward to reading the article in Which? magazine but it seems clear that our current government deserves whatever pressure is needed to stop these changes. My opinion would be the same whichever government was in power.

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Malcolm R

wavechange, I also agree, but we seem to always have to find someone to “blame” for anything we disagree with. Nothing seems consistent though – here we deregulate loose meat, whilst the EU bans loose olive oil in restaurants for dipping your bread in.
Personally, when these “opposition to change” conversations are raised, I would like to see both sides of the argument introduced. Governments are not stupid, so will have considered this change for some reasons. Whether we agree with them or not, I would like to know those reasons so the debate can continue on an informed basis.

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wavechange

Malcolm

I have not made much comment on this issue because this is the first I have heard about it and I will wait to read more in Which? magazine. I certainly agree with you about inconsistency in legislation, and assume that this is historical, having been introduced as deemed necessary.

I agree that it would have been useful for the introduction to outline the government’s reasoning for decriminalisation of contravention of food labelling regulations and how they intend to deal with the problem. We do a lot of guessing in these discussions and it would indeed be good to have an informed debate.

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Malcolm R

I do check the content of meat products and would support any campaign to ensure loose products were still properly labelled. I cannot understand why they should distinguish between pre-packed and loose meat products when imposing legislation. Perhaps someone could explain?
Incidentally, I like decent sausages and can never understand why some buy the cheap junk that masquerades as them – our supermarket source is 85-97% pork, depending on what you pay (still inexpensive) and are made only from fore end cuts of pork, with no nasty stuff.

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richard

I buy sausages for taste not contents – I know I have eaten and enjoyed many things others will not – and never been sick from food I’ve cooked myself in 82 years. I normally buy pre-packed ones – not loose – except from a superb local butchers. My dogs enjoy sausages from anywhere.

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Malcolm R

Richard, do they like hot dogs? I remember watching a “How it’s made” on Quest that showed aboiut 20 different processes before an American hot dog sausage became such. Enough to put you off for life – chemical processing, not preparing food. However, I do like hot dogs and have some German smoked frankfurters in the fridge – 80% pork and no rubbish.

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richard

Malcolm – Interesting you mention American hot dogs – I have a dog that was repossessed by the adoption kennels I help run from an abusive adopter and he was in a very emaciated and distressed state and suffering massively from stress causing massive hair loss and anxiety – He was recovering very very slowly (over two years) Used to give him occasional ordinary hog dogs with no noticeable effect – But I like American hot dogs which are more expensive however I decided to buy several jars to share with the dogs. On the second occasion of sharing – He suddenly realised that American hot dogs were a usual treat – His eyes lit up – Tail wagging like a propeller – smile – bounded onto his bed in great anticipation. From that day onwards he gained weight and hair and lost his anxiety – He at last treated my house as his home!! So I’m in favour of American Hot Dogs!! :)

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Malcolm R

Richard, great news, sounds like a good use for them. I’m sure the ones I saw being made were not typical! But I was pointing to the methods our processed “food” can be manufactured to extremes when it is totally unnecessary. A label showing few and simple quality ingredients is what we look for when buying sausages and the like, and it should continue.
When I was young and times were even more austere than now we didn’t seem to have this critical attitude towards processed food. I remember we had tomato sausages from Davy’s in Sheffield – some meat content presumably with tomato flavouring. They used to burst at the ends and become a bit charred – the best bits! We relished them. I’ve only ever seen tomato sausage once since then – anyone know a source?

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David Martin

I favour tighter not looser constraints, especially as supermarkets continuously try to bid down costs and prices. In addition to concerns about the quality of ingredients in processed meat products, I am particularly troubled by the addition of water. It is not a health and safety thing, so does not get sufficient attention. But it reduces the quality of the product and is a blatant attempt to fool us into thinking we are getting more, and paying more than we should. Water should not be added to ham, bacon, sausages etc. Even worse, some of the chemicals used in them are designed to hold the water in the product. Any good cook will notice the difference – sausages which spit excessively and shrink by almost 50% in volume, bacon which exudes a soup of white froth until it evaporates. Grill it? Oh yes, this is advised on the packet and disguises the problem. Food producers claimed that they introduced this as a health conscious initiative – but actually it is no coincidence that they introduced it at the same time as they significantly increased the percentage of water in bacon and sausages. You have to choose very carefully to avoid the water, and some still have water even though it is not on the label.

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Tom

So good folks at Which, are you proposing a campaign with support from consumers to back your objection to changes in labelling?
I can mail my MP and ask what he thinks/is doing on the issue but perhaps you could set up a poll to encourage others to get involved or is it on the site and I missed?

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MJ

My commendation goes to the person or research team that produced the article, “The True Cost of Cheap Meat”. It was very well written and made a reader consider a different way of evaluating a ‘cheap meat’ such as sausages and burgers. Providing the label on the product is accurate then it will be a new and better way of choosing the best value items. And this leads to the subject of decriminalising food labelling violations. Why would any government want to do such a thing, especially after the horsemeat-beef scandal? Some mis-labelling may be down to human error but where deliberate action has been taken by someone to fool the consumer in order to gain financially then that someone should be prosecuted as a criminal. There has to be a deterrent in place so that a person thinks twice before going down that route because that route, if taken lightly, could lead to unscrupulous adulteration of food making it dangerous for human consumption. I agree totally with Which opposing the government’s proposals on this subject.

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Carol

I’d just like to point out that the original reason for the ‘horsemeat scandal’ actually being a scandal wasn’t due to any kind of health reasons. The scandal was actually that people were being forced to unknowingly eat an animal which is classed as a pet in this country – that’s why we don’t eat horses here – they’re our pets. It would be the same as adding dog or cat flesh to burgers and sausages!

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