Tomorrow's great British meal - water, gravy and two veg

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The Independent Online
Meat-free pork sausages and chunks of ham whose main ingredient is added water could become legal next January.

Proposals by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) aimed at cutting red tape have achieved the rare double of enraging both consumer groups and the meat industry.

"It could mean the legalised debasement of many products that are a part of the daily diet, especially for people on a low income," David Walker, chief trading standards officer at Shropshire County Council, said. He said that the proposals - in which meat products would have no legal minimum meat content, and water would simply be listed in the ingredients - are "a virtual licence to print money" for unscrupulous food manufacturers.

The industry is also angry about the plans. "We are not happy with them because they don't offer protection from pressure to reduce the meat in meat products," Elizabeth Sunley, assistant director of the British Meat Manufacturers' Association, said last night. "Pork sausages have to have 65 per cent meat now ... We don't feel change would be helpful." The BMMA has submitted a reply to Maff opposing the changes, to be brought in next January.

The suggestions were contained in a paper called "Review of the Meat Products and Spreadable Fish Product Regulations 1984", as part of the 1993 initiative to cut red tape in government launched by Michael Heseltine, then president of the Board of Trade.

The regulations were introduced following an outcry in the early Eighties over the use of machines which can inject water into meat. In 1984 new legislation forced companies to announce on the front of packaging what percentage of water had been added. But under the new rules, that would not be necessary.

"The technology of those water machines has moved on," Mr Walker said. "Now they can inject up to 120 per cent of water." That would double the weight of the product, but more than half would be water.

A Maff spokeswoman said last night that it had not had time to evaluate the responses to the paper. The official deadline for replies was 1 March, though responses may be considered if they arrive this week.