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The Real Veal: Here's how to tell if your meat is Irish or not

For fresh meats, the rules are clear. For processed meats, not so much.

Fowls Source: DPA/PA Images

QUESTIONS AROSE ONLINE this week after it emerged that meat in a packet of Denny’s Slow Cooked Chicken – labelled ‘Made in Co Wicklow’ – was not of Irish origin.

The issue was first raised by food writer Katy McGuinness on Twitter after she queried where the sliced processed meat actually came from. 

McGuinness was informed by manufacturer Kerry Foods that the ‘formed’ meat actually originated in Brazil but was processed in Ireland. McGuinness, along with others who took to Twitter to express their surprise, felt that here was a case of deliberately misleading labelling. 

‘Formed’ is used to describe meat products which give consumers the impression that they are made from whole cuts but which actually contain different cuts of an animal. 

Although Denny’s chicken slices comply with current labelling rules, McGuinness pointed out, “consumers might legitimately have an expectation that the chicken was of Irish origin”.

“It might be legal but it is deliberately misleading, suggesting Irish-reared chicken. That this is legal is outrageous.”

McGuinness’ packet of chicken was not from Brazil, according to Kerry Foods spokesperson, but from the EU. 

A customer service miscommunication caused the error, they said, adding that “all our Denny chicken is sourced from NI, UK and European suppliers.”

“The “Made in Wicklow” claim refers to the product being cooked, cooled, sliced, packaged and labelled in Co. Wicklow. Our Denny Chicken is fully prepared and packaged on our Shillelagh site, Co. Wicklow.”

According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), though, processed meat products fall under “general labelling rules” and “aren’t required to give the origin of the meat within the final sliced product”. 

So, how are consumers to know if the meat they purchase is of Irish origin or not?

‘Clearer labels’

The requirement to state where meat originates differs depending on the type of meat, according to the FSAI. For some meats, origin can be easily determined. For others, it is less clear. 

For beef, it’s simple. The country of origin must be given, according to the authority. That applies to both fresh and frozen cuts and cuts sold pre-packed or at a butcher counter.

These rules also apply to fresh cuts of poultry, pigs, goats and sheep - to fresh, chilled or frozen carcasses, whole birds or cuts of these meats. That could include chicken breasts, pork chops and lamb cutlets.

For processed meats, however, determining origin isn’t as straightforward. 

Manufacturers are not required to clearly label country of origin for the likes of cured meats – bacon, rashers, salami, deli meat and sausages, for instance, the FSAI has said. 

Nor is the country of origin required for products that contain meat as an ingredient. For example, lasagne. 

So, that identification mark that appears on these types of products? You know, the oval shaped mark with letters referring to an EU Member State accompanied by a number? That only refers to the last place the product underwent processing. It is not an indication of origin.

It is an issue that has been going on for years, according to Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan, who says that opposition to clearer labelling has been industry-led and who has pushed for clearer labels on processed meats. 

“Consumer surveys…regardless of whether it’s processed or fresh cuts…show that people want to know where their meat comes from,” says Boylan.

‘Origin Ireland’

The FSAI has said that current meat labelling is not ideal. 

“We appreciate where consumers are coming from when it comes to country of origin labelling and acknowledge that the information on the label can seem misleading,” an FSAI spokesperson has said. 

“This has also been acknowledged at European level and changes to legislation have been made and will come into force from 1 April next year.”

Under new rules due to come into effect in 2020 and aimed at giving consumers greater clarity, the country of origin of the primary ingredient in a meat product must be given.

If the country indicated on a packet of differs from where the primary ingredient comes from then the primary ingredient must also be labeled clearly as being different to that of the food.

Primary ingredient will be defined in this new legislation as “an ingredient or ingredients of a food that represent more than 50% of that food or which are usually associated with the name of the food by the consumer,” according to the FSAI.

Bord Bia. Source: Bord Bia

Until then, the only way to be confident that the processed meat you buy was farmed and processed in Ireland, and not elsewhere, is to look for Bord Bía’s ‘Origin Ireland’ logo on the packet. 

The flag and the ‘Origin Ireland’ mark verify that the product was produced in Ireland and where you see this mark it means that the meat was farmed and processed in the Republic of Ireland. 

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