The quest for a common European standard for labelling meat content

Neil Griffiths reports on the effects of Amendments to the European Labelling Directive which is designed to harmonise meat labelling.

Amendments to the European Labelling Directive have resulted in the need to harmonise the definition of meat across Europe. This new definition attempts to ensure a common standard for the declarations of meat content on pre-packed meat products.

The new European meat definition defines meat as skeletal muscle; therefore, offals such as liver and kidney and MRM will no longer count as meat. The diaphragm and the masseters are included among the products covered by this definition of meat, while the heart, tongue, the muscles of the head (other than masseters) and the muscles of the carpus, tarsus and tail are excluded, for example, oxtail soup will no longer be a meat product.

Fat content

The fat content of meat will be limited to 30 per cent for pork, 15 per cent for birds and rabbits and 25 per cent for everything else.

Further, the connective tissue content of meat will be limited to 10 per cent for birds and rabbits and 25 per cent for everything else.

These standards are based on collagen to meat protein per centages where Collagen is Hydroxyproline x 8. This assists in analytical determinations, but analysts will still have to identify the meat protein percentage from potential protein mixes.

As this definition is more restrictive, the meat declarations previously made in ingredient lists will mostly reduce.

A typical pork and beef sausage recipe evaluated, which previously we would have declared at 50 per cent meat content, would now be 35 per cent and a typical liver pate recipe, which previously was declared at 70 per cent meat would now be 20 per cent. Further, any excess fat or connective tissue will need to be declared in the ingredients list.

Compositional standards

Current United Kingdom compositional standards linked to reserved descriptions, for example 65 per cent minimum meat for a pork sausage can no longer apply as these standards related to the UK definition.

The UK standards for sausages, beef burgers, pies, chopped meat, corned meat, pates and spreads are currently being discussed. It is possible that all of these standards will disappear or more likely a restrictive list covering sausages, burgers and pies will result.

However, new standards will have to be established and there is some debate as to whether these will be linked to visual lean meat requirement rather than total meat.

There is also a debate as to whether the need to label the meat content of meat products should be extended to non pre-packed products.

Currently the Directive only requires pre-packed products to be labelled. This decision is likely to be left to each individual Member State.

In the UK the need to declare the meat content on non pre-packed products has existed since 1984 and as such it is highly likely that a requirement to declare meat, albeit to the new definition, will continue. We will wait and see how other Member States react.


Because the new European meat definition is more restrictive in terms of fat and connective tissue than previous compositional standards, the majority of pre-packed meat products will require re-labelling.

Member States will have to bring this requirement into law by the 1st January 2003. However, products that do not meet this requirement and which were labelled before 1st January 2003 shall be authorised while stocks last.

So what can you do now? All current meat product recipes must be evaluated in the light of this new definition to establish levels of declarable meat consistent with this new definition. Any excess fat or connective tissue must be evaluated.

The British Meat Manufacturer's Association (BMMA) has a standard (POO6) for the acceptable levels of pork rind and other collagenous materials in minced meat and minced products, which gives guidance on how connective tissue in recipes can be evaluated.

Fat information should currently be available and can also be estimated from the visual lean of the raw materials in the recipe.

It should be borne in mind that the fat and connective tissue levels contained within the new European meat definition are maximums and sufficient tolerance should be allowed to make sure these maximums are being complied with.

To assist the food industry, LawLabs in conjunction with the BMMA (British Meat Manufacturers' Association) have developed the Meat Content Calculator to help calculate the meat contents of your products rapidly, consistently and accurately.

Published standards

The BMMA currently publishes standards for the acceptable levels of fat, pork rind and other collagenous materials in meat and meat products, which gives guidance on how fat and connective tissue in recipes can be evaluated.

Using these standards in the form of a database in conjunction with a computer program, meat content of your products can be quickly calculated by entering the recipe details onto a website.

At a touch of a button the meat content, fat and connective tissue values are all available to assist you in the labelling of your product. p

Enquiry No 41

Neil Griffiths is chief executive at Law Laboratories Limited, Great Barr, Birmingham, UK.

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