Wendyl Wants To Know
Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.

Wendyl wants to know: Consumers deserve meatier labels on meals

Meat in our ready meals is readily identified - but there's no way to know which country it's from. Wendyl Nissen reports

Signature Range Beef Lasagne, $3.45 for 270g.  Photo / Supplied
Signature Range Beef Lasagne, $3.45 for 270g. Photo / Supplied

Signature Range Beef Lasagne, $3.45 for 270g

For the past month health, authorities in Britain have been trying to find out how horsemeat got into products such as ready-to-eat lasagne and hamburger patties that were presented as beef products.

Originally it was thought that the horsemeat was introduced in other countries where it was sold as beef before being imported into Britain. But more recently local slaughterhouses have been raided for evidence of horsemeat entering the food supply.

Some people won't have a problem eating horsemeat and it can be legally sold here for human consumption, but the issue raises the problem of accurate food labelling and the importance of testing the food we are sold in supermarkets.

In New Zealand we have similar food labelling laws to Britain so could our beef lasagne be contaminated too? The Herald investigated this week and found no trace of horse meat in eight products tested by Environmental and Science Research.

The Ministry of Primary Industries says it is illegal to label a product as having beef in it and then replace it with horsemeat. But according to our Food Standards a generic name may be used for some ingredients - such as meat, spices, vegetables or cheese - without any further details.

That means if a product simply says "meat" on the ingredients label, it could have horsemeat. The only comeback for consumers is this might breach the Fair Trading Act, as horsemeat is not commonly eaten here.

Former Green Party MP Sue Kedgley also put some questions to the Ministry of Primary Industries. She found some of our beef is imported from the European Union and other countries such as Australia, Mexico and the US. But we would not know as there is no requirement to label a food's country of origin.

I set out to find a product in my local supermarket that simply listed "meat" in the ingredients panel. I scanned freezers, meat fridges and even canned goods in three different supermarkets and found that in most cases our food manufacturers did not use generics and were happy to tell you what kind of meat was in their products. I was surprised at some of the meat I found, such as mutton listed in frozen meat pies and up to five different meats listed for a single product.

Here is my break-down of what's in Signature Range Beef Lasagne.


Water - Interesting to find this listed at the top of the ingredients list, which means this product is mostly water. Minced beef (21 per cent)This tells us the meat in here is minced beef. But we have no guarantee if it is local beef or imported as the label says "made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients". It would be reassuring if it said "New Zealand beef".

Pasta (13 per cent) (water, durum wheat, semolina, wheat flour) - These are standard ingredients for pasta.

Diced tomatoes (5 per cent)

Tomato puree


Thickener (1442) - This is acetylated distarch adipate, which is a treated starch.

Cream (2.5 per cent) (from milk)

Red wine (2 per cent)

Cheddar cheese (2 per cent) (from milk)

Wheat flour

Milk solids

Butter (from milk)

Beef stock - Contains flavour enhancers (621 (monosodium glutamate), 631, 627), soy, wheat. No horsemeat concerns here as there is no meat whatsoever in this beef stock. Instead there is MSG, which some people have reactions to, as well disodium inosinate (631) and disodium guanylate, which work in synergy with MSG and are often present in foods where you find it.

Vegetable stock - Contains flavour enhancers (627,631), wheat, soy. Again, no vegetables in vegetable stock but two flavour enhancers found in beef stock (above).

Salt - This is reasonably high in salt with 621mg per 270g serve.

Brown sugar





Emulsifier (472e) - This is fatty acids of glycerol, in here to keep things such as oil and water mixed together.


Colour (150c) - This is caramel III, which is made by heating sugars with ammonia. The caramel colours 150a, 150b, 150c and 150d are controversial as some studies have shown that a chemical produced when reacting sugar and ammonia or sulphites called 4-MEI is a carcinogen after tests on rats. However, it is allowed in our food.


My recommendations

It is reassuring to know that 300 samples of meat are tested each year in this country to ensure meat is what it says it is, and so far the tests have not found any horsemeat disguised as beef. But generic labelling such as "meat" could mean you are consuming horsemeat, goat or mutton.

It looks as if producers are being very clear with labelling, giving detail about what meat is in their products.So if a product is local you are in fairly safe hands.

But if you are concerned, you can get your chosen cut of meat and mince it in the food processor or ask your butcher to do it while you wait. This will also safeguard against other contaminants such as preservatives or additives that might get put into the meat during processing.

• Contains 21 per cent beef
• MSG, flavour enhancers
• Water largest ingredient

Do you have a food product you would like to feature?
Email wendylwantstoknow@gmail.com with suggestions. Unfortunately, Wendyl cannot correspond with readers.

- NZ Herald

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