Meat Labelling

Reporter: Helen Wellings

"Australians aren't aware of what they're buying and are paying far too more for that quality product than they should" says Norman Hunt, Solicitor "You have a product calling a scotch fillet, it can be called a prime it was called budget it can be called selected or it can be called A or different grades now that's very confusing for a consumer" says butcher Craig Cook. What's the difference between this beef, and this, this one marked "Premium", this one "budget", prime, this one called "yearling"? Is it one year old or 10?

"We eat 80% of the prime cuts from those animals, from those old cows. So Australians eat an awful lot of old cow beef. Most countries in the developed world use all our old cow beef for mince meat" says Hunt. You've heard it - we're being sold meat, beef, that's not just 3 years old but 8, 9,10 years old. "No way of telling how old that product is not at all" says Craig Cook.

"What is the difference in price here between this inferior meat and the top quality?" "Helen it could be as much as $20 a kilo, a budget rump is $5, $6.99 a kilo a nice yearling rump $29 a kilo and that's the problem. But they could be selling this $5.99 one for $20 a kilo "That's exactly right." Says Cook. It's a fact - shoppers are buying blind. We might think we're getting top cuts of young tender beef -- when we're actually copping old inferior beef. Today Tonight's been exposing these rorts for years, mutton or hogget dressed up and priced as lamb when it should be less than half the price. And we've exposed 3 and a half to 10 years old beef being promoted as A-grade, prime cuts, export quality, and being sold as porterhouse sirloin and rump costing around $20 a kilo. Accredited beef grader, Bob Strahan says it's beef fit to be minced, at best. "You've got yellow fat colour, really dark meat colour, it is definitely off a very old animal. How old? 8 years, 9 years, who knows?" But now the ultimate proof that what we've been hammering on about has finally been realised with a massive shake-up of how you'll be soon buying your meat. In Australia, industry codes have permitted eight-tooth beef, that's from a cow that's 3 and a half years, to be sold as prime meat for grilling cuts, like rump and T-Bone - and meat up to 10 year old as "budget".

"Supermarkets using the term "budget" has been a real problem for product" explains Cook. Sydney Butcher Craig Cook says under new truth in labelling laws about to be introduced, terms like A-Grade, Export Quality, Prime and Budget will be banned. Instead we'll see 5 new labels, Yearling for beef less than 18 months old, Young 18 months to 2 and a half years, Intermediate 2 and a half to 3 years, Mature is 3 to 3 and a half years and instead of budget, supermarkets and butchers will have to use "economy", which denotes the animal's 3 and a half year or more. Cook explains "You used to be able to use budget, that term is gone you now have mature so when a rump is sliced on a tray it will be named not just rump it will be named mature, yearling, it will have the name associated to the age."

"When you come to the old cow beef from the 10 year old animal they're so old that the beef from them generally will not be good it would be pretty tough pretty chewy, a bit like shoe leather" says Norman Hunt. Solicitor Norman Hunt helped prepare the new beef labelling laws, but he believes the governments ended up with a watered down version of what was planned. "They've simply chosen the wrong terminology. They're describing beef from mature animals as economy and the beef from immature animals as mature. It's crazy. It's not logical" he says. But it's supermarkets that have lobbied to have the term "economy" for meat 3 and a half or more years old. They don't want to use mature for older ones as it indicates it is indeed OLD.

"The outcome will be that the new legislation will replace one weasel, misleading term - budget, for old cow beef, with an even more weaselly term economy and consumers will be misled and deceived" explains Hunt. Norman Hunt says Australia should have a quality grading system like America. There, 80% of beef is graded using the terms Prime, for highest quality, then Choice, Select, and for the lowest grade, - Standard and shoppers understand what they mean. The UK, - there's no grading system but, unlike our beef from 10 year old cows, UK retailers are not permitted to sell beef from animals over 30 months old. But age, which the new laws focus on, is not the only determinant of beef quality. Craig Cook says; "You can get meat that is 2 or 3 years old but still if it's a beautiful high quality Angus animal it's still very good"


Craig Cook

Prime Quality Meats