Why did the chicken cross the continent? So it could go cheap, cheap, cheap
At the butcher’s shop over the road, Irish chicken fillets were on sale alongside chicken kievs of no stated nationality.
In the third butcher’s I tried, the chicken fillets were described as Irish; the chicken carcasses on sale beside them had no country of origin displayed.
By contrast, all the meat in my local Tesco was branded with its country of origin, including a pack of chicken fillets in breadcrumbs, which came from somewhere called “the EU and Thailand”.
At Supervalu, the butcher confidently informed me that all his chicken was Irish, but several products were being sold in packaging that offered no clue as to the country of origin.
Should consumers care where their meat comes from? That’s a matter of personal taste. The 2012 Safefood report on the chicken industry says there is no health issue with meat being shipped in from overseas; the primary concern is the impact on domestic producers.
I’m not sure that the impact on domestic producers would be my top concern – at least, not having read this extract from the report describing the processes chicken fillets go through as they make their way from Thailand or Brazil to Ireland.
“On import, European processors tumble or inject defrosted imported chicken fillets with water and binding agents such as animal proteins . . . (including gelatine, blood, whey protein, spray-dried beef and pork protein, some of which may be mechanically recovered) . . .
“The chicken breasts are packed into 10kg boxes and frozen prior to distribution throughout the EU, including ROI and NI . . . In butcher shops, it is possible that these products could be sold directly to consumers as raw chicken breast fillets, either in a frozen or unfrozen state.”
It goes on: “Fillets with added ingredients that have been frozen and refrozen at different stages in the food chain may be sold in establishments as ‘fresh chicken’.’’
Not all that appetising, is it? But if you’ve dined out recently and chosen chicken from the menu, chances are it was one of these frozen, defrosted, tumbled, injected, frozen and defrosted fillets you tucked into: 90 per cent of all chicken meat used in the catering industry originates in this way.
The report highlights other, less-than-edifying industry practices, including the “relabelling” of meat to change the use-by date, sometimes more than once. This is not illegal, provided it is done safely. However, a 2010 survey by Safefood found that 8 per cent of butchers couldn’t actually give a use-by date; 23 per cent offered dates for which they had no basis; and the same proportion gave a use-by date that was unrealistic.
In the short term, what the great horsemeat scandal of 2013 has done – besides littering newspapers, websites and the airwaves with the obligatory Black Beauty jokes – is to hit sales of cheap supermarket burgers.