Retailers hit back over ‘misleading’ mince label claims

Retailers are fighting back after local government leaders accused them of using misleading descriptions and inaccurate labelling when it came to the sale of low-fat beef mince.

A study released by the Local Government Association claims Asda’s mince contained 27% more fat that was suggested on the label, while Iceland’s meat contained 10% less.

The results were found following a councils trading standards and environmental health UK-wide survey, in which officers analysed more than 500 samples of minced beef from nine supermarket chains.

However, Asda has called on the LGA to release more details on the products tested and suggested that the tests were not consistent across all councils.

A spokesman said: “In our own tests, the most recent from last night, our minced beef conforms to the fat content guidelines as set by the LGA.

“However, without knowing which products were tested in the LG regulation report, we’re unable to verify the accuracy of their findings. Once they provide this information, we will obviously look to understand why there is a discrepancy between our own rigorous testing and that of the local councils involved.”

The LGA report, to be released today (Monday, 26 July), said there was encouraging evidence that the overall average fat content of minced beef was falling – down from 15.7% six years ago to 12.3% now. However, fat and gristle content of a particular type of minced beef can vary between retailers to such an extent that “consumers face an impossible task understanding what they are buying”.

It said shoppers who buy minced beef described as ‘lean’ or ‘extra lean’ may in fact be eating a product that is more fatty than standard minced beef and inaccurate labelling was “massively” understating the true amount of fat.

According to the survey, the best-quality minced beef is sold at butchers’ shops. However, mince bought from a butcher’s counter is more likely to have been cross-contaminated with small amounts of another type of meat, mainly pork, the LGA claimed.

LG Regulation is now calling for consistency in the naming of beef products and help and advice for shoppers to understand what they are buying, with supermarkets giving clearer descriptions and more accurate information about their products.

Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of LG Regulation, said: “When it comes to labelling minced beef, confusion reigns supreme. For a consumer to try to purchase a product with a specific fat content, the chances of them getting what they want are a bit of a lottery.

“Minced meat is one of the country’s most popular food products. Yet the millions of people who eat it every week would no doubt be shocked to learn that a packet of lean steak mince may contain more fat than steak mince.”

The study analysed more than 500 samples and found that:

* The overall fat content of minced beef varied massively, from the lowest at 1.8% to the highest at 33.6%.
* There was significant variation within product categories. While some packets of ‘lean minced beef’ contained only 2.5% fat, others had 10 times that amount.
* Minced beef from supermarkets contained 67% more fat than the equivalent from butchers’ shops.
* Frozen minced beef contained 41% more fat and 24% more connective tissue than fresh minced beef.
* 29% of minced beef samples from butchers’ shops had traces of other meat in them – mainly pork.

The LGA has suggested the Association of Public Analysts (APA) works alongside councils and industry to draw up new fat limit recommendations.

LG Regulation chairman Cllr Paul Bettison added: “People have every right to expect that if they buy a packet labelled lean minced beef, then that is exactly what should be inside. Lean should mean lean.”

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