Shoppers are being warned to look more closely at food labels, as researchers claim that many of them make false or misleading claims.
The insights provided by Richard Evershed, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Bristol, are shocking – and cover the major retailers in the UK, such as supermarket own brands. The questionable labelling could mean you are unaware of what you are actually eating.
First, let’s take a look at some concrete examples of what the complaints are about. Those who have ingredients jobs probably already know that not everything is always as it seems, but the packaging is very misleading. There is a duck and orange pate currently sold by Sainsbury’s, with the main ingredient actually being pork fat – and chicken liver, pork rind, and rice starch also line up against the duck components.
Tesco is in a similar boat with their duck and orange pate slice, which contains pork fat and chicken liver despite featuring an image of a duck on the packaging. Meanwhile, the Classic Houmous sold by Morrisons turns out to be far from classic, using rapeseed oil instead of the traditional olive oil.
At Asda, the weight on a packet of frozen salmon fillets has been flagged up: it is listed as 400g, but a check of the ingredients reveals that only 360g is actually fish. The other 40g is the ice used to pack and keep the salmon frozen.
Outrage at Deception
‘As our urban lifestyle takes us further and further away from our food sources, there are increasing opportunities for dishonesty, duplicity and profit-making short cuts,’ says Professor Evershed. ’Whether it’s a matter of making a good quality oil stretch a bit further by adding a little extra “something” or labelling a food falsely to appeal to current consumer trends, it’s all food fraud and it costs the food industry billions. The price to consumers may be even higher, with some paying for these crimes with their health and, in some cases, their lives.’
The issue is now being investigated across Europe, particularly when it comes to the use of frozen water in packing to make food seem bigger. With chicken as well as fish, the technique can be used to make the meat seem plumper and fuller – though of course this will all melt away when cooked.
A Legal Issue
The main problem faced by the campaigners in this case is that supermarkets are not technically doing anything illegal. So long as the ingredients listed on the front of the packet are somewhere in the product, it’s not against the law. It’s a practice which has been ongoing for many years – pick up a fruit juice mix and you will see a similar effect: most juices will have apple or orange juice as the main component, even if they are named after a lesser ingredient, due to the final flavour.
However, people are starting to take note. A restaurant owner from North Yorkshire was recently jailed after a customer ate a takeaway curry and later died due to an allergic reaction. The reason? He had decided to cut costs by using peanuts instead of almonds for the traditional recipe.
If you want to be more aware of what you are eating, the best bet is to always turn the package over and read the full ingredients list before you buy. This will help you to understand whether or not the packaging tells the full story. Check out our graduate jobs if you are already in higher education on this topic.