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‘Fresh’ supermarket chicken that flew
from Brazil months ago
Consumer Editor, The Times
Filed 19 Dec 07
This article was originally published
in The Times, 17th December 07.
It is reproduced here by kind permission of its author and ot the
Thousands of tonnes of apparently fresh poultry
meat sold in supermarkets and catering outlets is imported and often
An official definition of the term “fresh”,
as used on food labels, is being drawn up amid concerns that consumers
are buying meat that is much older than it seems to be. Much of
the basted turkey and chicken joints, fillets in sauce or breadcrumbs
and packs of chicken sandwiches in shops appears to be fresh. But
with the amount of poultry being imported from Brazil and Thailand
expanding, more of it is weeks or even months old. Once it reaches
Britain, importers can keep cooked meat, uncooked birds and poultry
pieces in cold store.
Meat in ready meals could be many months
old, and may have been thawed and frozen a number of times. The
meat is safe but information on labels about its origin is frequently
unclear. Lord Rooker, the Food and Farming Minister, backs a campaign
to clarify labelling rules so that consumers do not buy a sandwich
made from thawed meat when they think it is fresh.
European Union rules give no time limit
for use of “fresh” on poultry meat. Chicken may not
be frozen then thawed and sold as “fresh”, but this
does not prevent meat that has travelled for weeks from being put
in supermarket chiller units as if it were from a bird just slaughtered.
Industry chiefs fear that such exports could expand into the fresh
raw meat premium market. The European Commission admits that new
labelling rules are required. Officials in Brussels are soon to
provide options for a new definition of “fresh”.
Lord Rooker has asked supermarkets to back
home-produced poultry. He was told by a delegation from the meat
production workers’ union, Unite, of the growth of imports
and shown findings that 80 per cent of chicken sandwiches sold by
supermarkets were made from imported meat. He was also told that
Britain was the biggest buyer of Thai poultry in Europe –
which can only be imported cooked because of measures to prevent
avian flu. Last year, Britain imported 83,000 tonnes of Thai chicken
meat out of 127,700 tonnes imported into the EU.
What’s in a name?
– In 2006 Britain imported 3,500 tonnes
of chicken worth £46 million and 232 tonnes of turkey worth
£329,000 from Brazil
– There is no time limit for meat
to be described as “fresh” on a label. Under EU marketing
regulations fresh poultry is defined as “poultry not stiffened
by the cooling process”
– A definition for fresh meat in EU
sanitation and hygiene rules states: “Fresh meat means meat
that has not undergone any preserving process other than chilling,
freezing or quick freezing”
–– Frozen meat is therefore
“fresh” under sanitation rules but not under poultry
Source: British Poultry Council