Horsemeat labels announced

A new labelling system to identify the amount of horsemeat used in fresh and frozen meat products is to be implemented with immediate effect following consultations in citizen forums.

The focus groups used to test consumer acceptability of substitute meats were conducted by the Food Standards Agency in March. The groups revealed that consumers would be open-minded about eating horse and other substitute meats if it was clearly labelled on product packaging. The technically difficult and costly process of testing for horsemeat was a key priority for the FSA to resolve in its future-proofing process, fuelling the need for the forums, though the worst of the scandal seems to have run its course.

“These forums provided a great insight into consumer thresholds,” said FSA Chief Executive Catherine Brown. “We found that as long as the packaging is clearly labelled as containing horse, consumers don’t really care what goes into their food as long as it’s cheap.

“We see this as a win-win – we don’t need to start ‘policing’ the food industry and consumers will know exactly what they’re getting, whether it’s 10%, 50% or even 100% horsemeat. This is real progress.”

An example of the approved meat label alongside the existing traffic light nutritional information.

An example of the approved meat label alongside the existing traffic light nutritional information.

The meat content label is to be rolled out imminently, with the FSA saying it hopes it will be fully implemented on all affected products by September. The final design will take the form of a pie chart of coloured segments representing the percentage of meat constituents, including pork, horse and goat.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the new labelling would give shoppers “peace of mind”.

“I think we all know by now the food industry is not what we thought it was, and giving consumers the freedom to say “yay” or “nay” to horsemeat is, I think, one of the most gratifying strategies my department has actioned.”

The move was welcomed by retailers who have been under increasing fire by consumers and campaigners jockeying for transparency in the processed meats industry. Philip Clarke, Tesco Chief Executive said: “This whole fiasco has been a nightmare for consumers and retailers alike. We’ve been very transparent about our supply chain since our products were found to contain horsemeat and this is just another effort to continue bringing transparency to our customers.”

But Allan Lane, Managing Director of Gloucestershire-based meat supplier Chelten Ham and Cured Meats said the labelling was just adding insult to injury: “The Government is deluded if it thinks this is the solution people want. This just means that horsemeat and other rogue meats will still be on our supermarket shelves. We need to sort the wheat from the chaff, but this only validates the processed meat industry’s hoop-jumping and breeds a food culture I’m not sure this country really wants.”

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