/ Food & Drink

The truth about your crab pâté… it’s mostly made of fish

Bread with crab pate

If you buy crab pâté you’re probably expecting to get a pâté that’s made mostly of crab. But it’s not always so straightforward. Should we have to read the label of every product to see the truth about what’s in it?

This month in Which? magazine we highlighted how some manufacturers label their products emphasising the most desirable ingredients, while ignoring the main ingredients.

One of our members bought John West’s Crab Pâté but when serving it noticed it contains 40% hoki (a white fish from the hake family) and only 20% white crab meat and 11% brown crab meat. Surely a more realistic description would be ‘hoki pâté with crab’?

And there are many other examples out there. An Aldi Duck and Port Pâté contains only 6% duck and 0.3% port but a whopping 45% pork, additional pork fat and 14% chicken. Discovery Guacamole Style Topping contains 3% rehydrated avocado, but 30% cream and even more water! Hardly the avocado dip you might be expecting.

The law on food labelling

Food labelling legislation exists to ensure consumers aren’t misled as to the nature of the products they buy. When we contacted Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) which deals with food labelling issues we were told:

‘There is no requirement as to what percentage of the ingredient the food must contain, solely that if it is named “crab pâté”, it must list the percentage of crab in the ingredients’.

We think this needs to change and want to see manufacturers and retailers name their products clearly and accurately.

But what do you think? Is it the responsibility of us to analyse every label of every product we buy? Who has the time when we’re rushing around the supermarket on the way home?

We also want to see how widespread this labelling practice is, so if you come across any examples we’re asking you to take pictures and email them to foodeditor@which.co.uk – and tell us about them here.

Sophie Gilbert says:
31 March 2011

I think we consumers need to accept a degree of responsiblity when it comes to reading labels, but I also agree that calling crab pate something that contains mostly fish is misrepresenting the product. Yes, we need to campaign against this practice. If the product tastes good and there’s no rubbish in it, naming it fairly won’t stop us from buying it anyway.

Even if there isn’t specific legislation about the labelling of such products.
It does seem to amount to misrepresentation and shouldnt Which consider a test court case ?
Could a product with 0.1% crab be labelled as Crab Pate even if the contents label was correct ?
There must come a point when for example “Crab Pate” is no longer Crab Pate as far as the “average consumer” is concerned ie Crab content of 50% , 30%, 10% ?

The Advertising Standards Authority should take care of this and many other cases of misrepresentation. ASA is not working properly and the Consumers’ Association should be campaigning to get the government to take action.

Until deceiving the public is stopped it is a case of reading the label very carefully.

The ASA has no powers it cannot force a company to do anything !

That is one reason why we need action to deal with misleading and dishonest advertising and product descriptions. The amount of crab of crab pâté is just one of many examples of the problem.

C Jones says:
3 August 2011

If we had to read the small print on everything we purchased we would need to spend hours in the shops. I just bought a 125g tin labelled Lobster Paté at a cost of £3.95. I didn’t have my reading glasses with me and yes, it was an impulse buy. The Lobster Paté part of the label is in large print so easily readable. Apparently the main ingredient is cod and there is 20% lobster in there, so, ostensibly, this is cod paté. I doubt I would have paid almost £4 for a can of virtually all cod, with added water and other ingredients of the flavouring kind.

Tinybob says:
14 December 2012

Food labels are currently designed by marketing people, not the technical or legal people within a company. Trading Standards, who enforce food labelling laws, no longer have the resources to challenge big companies who ignore thier advice. If a company like Tesco ignored the advice that a label was misleading Trading Standards would have to take them to Court which would cost them significantly. They are also fighting case law which says we as consumers should ‘take the label as a whole’ which means thay can lie on the front as long as they make it clear on the back.

In my view what is needed is a national panel of consumers to whom Trading Standards can refer things to and recieve our views, this would not only justify them doing the work but give them proof that consumers feel mislead to present to the Court. This would be easy to do electronically with suspect labels being scanned and emailed round, or put up on a website.

Which? are the perfect body to support the regulators in this regard and we as members can support or even join the panel. It’s easy to say sometihng should be done, so lets do something. Pick a Trading Standards and start talking about how we (and which?) cna help them fight our corner otherwise businesses and marketers will just keep conning us.