It never ceases to amaze me how low food manufacturers will stoop to sell their products.
Food labels in general are purposefully crafted to make the consumer think they are getting something more, or completely different, than what really meets the eye.
Take a new consumer report out of Europe, for instance. Investigators found food companies are giving the public a load of bull when it comes to meat.
What’s particularly discouraging is this comes on the tails of the horsemeat scandal that rocked the European meat industry in 2013.
So in an effort to keep food fraud at the top of the agenda, Brussels-based consumer rights organization BEUC compiled the findings of 7 European Union (EU) consumer organizations, which conducted rigorous tests of the meat products found in supermarkets between 2014 and 2015.
What they found was less than appetizing. In fact, the deception they uncovered is borderline illegal.
Let’s start by talking about how they define “meat” (Yes, it’s the government. There are definitions for everything.)
- “Fresh meat” is supposed to be pure raw meat, and nothing else. This includes minced or ground meat.
- A “meat preparation” can include fresh meat, but it has been processed, and usually has added ingredients, such as soy and starch, seasonings, and/or food additives. (Sausage, for example.)
- A “meat product” is one that has been processed to the point it no longer has the characteristics of fresh meat. (This includes bacon, ham, and hot dogs.)
- And depending on the meat type, up to 25% fat and 30% collagen as well as skeletal muscle that can be legally declared as meat on the label.
In Belgium, investigators found that many meat preparations were literally watered down as much as 11%. (Adding water to meat makes it heavier. So you think you’re getting more…but you’re actually paying for water — not meat.) Of course, anything that contains over 5% water is supposed to state “with water added” on the label. But often, this wasn’t the case.
Here are a few other meat atrocities investigators uncovered throughout the EU:
- Belgians are adding coloring to make meat appear fresher and of higher quality than it actually is
- Italians are passing off kebabs advertised as veal, when in reality they are 100% turkey
- In Britain, a watchdog group found that 40% of lamb from takeout restaurants was contaminated with other meats.
- And in Portugal, 23 out of 26 samples of “fresh minced meat” contained sulphite, a preservative which isn’t even permitted in fresh meat at all because it can cause severe allergic reactions. Several samples showed levels 400 times higher than the threshold required for allergen labeling.
Not only is this horribly deceitful, but it’s potentially life-threatening to the consumer.
And I would imagine it’s even worse here in the US.
After all, the responsibility falls on our government to be the watchdog for our health — something they repeatedly fail to do. Besides, I doubt a report as comprehensive as this one would ever come from the United States. The billion dollar meat industry is too cozy with the government.
Part of the problem (at least here in the U.S.) is that consumers expect to pay too little for good food. I’ve mentioned this before and I will mention it again — the average consumer in the 1940’s spent 40% of their income on food. Today that number is less than 10%.
Bottom line is that we get what we pay for — and the consequences bubble over into our health.
So how are you supposed to get the truth about your food? Well, the only way to know for sure is to ask.
And read all labels with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you’re getting 100% real organic, grass fed and finished meat. Not a “meat product” that has added colors, fillers, or “parts.”
Better yet, if at all possible, get your meat directly from a local farm that raises organic (and preferably “heritage”) meats. To find a source of quality meat near you, visit LocalHarvest.com and enter “meat” and your zip code into the search function at the top of the page.