No mincing words on fat content

And now to a meaty issue. In a recent Consumer Watch column I featured e-mails from two readers who had noticed that “lean” and “extra lean” beef mince appeared to vary vastly in terms of fat content.

They wanted to know if the descriptions were regulated.

Clarity: Woolworths says if minced meat or processed meat products say lean or trim, the fat content must be less than 10 percent. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi. Credit: inlsa

I asked the executive director of the SA Meat Industry Company, Rudi van der Westhuizen, about this, and he said there was no such regulation, and I reported this in the column.

“We are dealing with perceptions of what extra lean, lean, ground mince etc really means,” Van der Westhuizen said.

“So there you have it,” I concluded, “those descriptions are entirely subjective, and you don’t really know how lean a pack of mince is until you cook it.”

Well, both Woolworths and Shoprite wrote in to put me right on that one.

Both sent me copies of the relevant section of the regulations pertaining to the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs – administered by the national Health Department’s Directorate of Food Control.

Under “Nutrient Content Claims for Foodstuffs”, point 15 states: “In the case of minced meat and processed meat products… if… words such as ‘lean’ or ‘trim’ are used on the label, the fat content of the meat must be less than 10 percent.

“If the mince is labelled ‘extra lean’ or similar, the fat content must be less than 5 percent.”

Granted, those regulations have only been in force since March this year – four months – but I have a copy of those regulations, and I’m passionate about food labelling, so I really should have known this.

For his part, Van der Westhuizen said he hadn’t been aware of the food labelling regulations pertaining to mince, as his organisation works primarily with the Agricultural Products Standards Act with regard to the classification and marking of meat, as well as the Meat Safety Act.

“I was never advised or had any notice from the health authority regarding this particular change, but I apologise for my answer in this regard,” he said.

Such is the problem with fragmented legislation.

Van der Westhuizen said companies that include a breakdown of nutritional information on minced meat products ought to be congratulated.

“Most of the lean and extra lean mince I have seen is only labelled as ‘lean’ or ‘extra lean’ mince, with no nutritional information present.

“If this information is not on the labels, a question mark should be raised regarding the fat content.”

This is new legislation, and I daresay many suppliers are still doing their own thing with regard to the fat content of products they are calling “lean” or “extra lean”.

Ask questions if there is no nutritional breakdown on the pack.