Ham & Lamb
Reporter: Helen Wellings

Australians love meat - we are the 4th highest meat-eaters in the world. But there are some rogue operators in the industry taking an unfair advantage of our unquenchable appetite for meat by cheating - substituting lower grade meats for the more expensive premium grade, and in other cases adding volumes of water to supermarket cured meats to pump up their profits.

Have you ever been suspicious that the lamb you bought was not up to standard? Chances are you've been duped by older, cheaper hogget or mutton ... dressed up as lamb.

Our national lamb substitution scam has industry cheats prospering and getting away with it, and shoppers ... the big losers. The same with an Australia-wide packaged ham racket - unscrupulous processors add water, up to 38%, and bingo, it's a licence to print money.

"Most of these hams don't cut the mustard. People expect a traditional reliable food. What they are getting is something pumped up with water just for profit" says Christopher Zinn from Choice.

Lamb farmer, Chris Groves, is President of the Sheepmeat Council Of Australia which has called for a full investigation into substitution, how often so called "lamb", the premium product, is actually hogget and mutton. He says consumers should get what they pay for.

"We're concerned that there are processors branding hoggit as lamb, there may be wholesalers substituting ... we're concerned that it could be throughout the chain."

There's a huge competitive advantage in cheating. At processing stage, hoggets worth less than half the price of lamb. The carcass value of hogget is $50, for lamb - around $110.

On that basis, a wholesaler/processor, perhaps an abattoir, who substituted just 20% of 2,000 killed hoggets for lamb, could make a profit of .... $80,000 to $90,000 per week. Chris Groves says, in Australia there's an accepted industry definition of lamb based on the United Nation's worldwide definition. The true test of the age of a sheep, whether lamb, is its teeth.

Genuine lamb is up to 12 months old. Hogget, 12 months to 2 years, Mutton from 2 years up to 8.

"If you are forking out your hard earned dollars and you think you are getting lamb you want lamb." Senator Glenn Sterle, Chair of a Senate Inquiry into Meat Marketing, lamb substitution, wants better policing and tough penalties for cheats. "A couple of years back someone tried it they went to jail. That is the appropriate fix for mislabelling."

To stop meat substitution, there needs to be a controlled uniform regulatory system. At present, there are different state laws and ad hoc policing of meat branding and labelling. That's allowing unscrupulous wholesalers and processors to get away with cheating.

"It's a giant ham scam - in 11 hams, up to one third of the meat is actually water. You pay equivalent to wine" says Christopher Zinn from Choice.

When Choice tested 46 brands and types of packaged supermarket hams - a major scandal! All contained extra water adding during the curing process. But one third, 15 out of 46 hams, contained 20% to 33% water. The worst one - Woolworths/Safeway Deli Leg Ham with the least meat, 53%, and the most added water - 38%. It's been discontinued following Choice's report. That leaves Woolworths/Safeway Premium Lite Shaved Ham worst with only 67% meat, 27% added water.

"The hams that are most full of water, we priced it out and you are paying about $26 for 750 ml so that is a very good bottle of wine price you are paying for the water in your ham" says Christopher.

Choice's Christopher Zinn says shoppers have no way of knowing they're being scammed. "More expensive packaged hams not necessarily the best value. Most cases it's cheaper buying real ham straight off the bone."

Choice tests found these hams have the most meat, more than 90% and the least added water, 6% or less. PRIMO Leg Ham Double Smoked, DANDY Shaved Premium Leg Ham, PRIMO Leg Ham Honey Cured, PRIMO Premium Leg Ham Shaved, COURTWAY Continental Double Smoked Leg Ham (Aldi), COURTWAY Continental Leg Ham (Aldi).

And lamb... how can you make sure you're getting the real deal?

Fine Meats butcher, Craig Cook says lamb is worth the extra cost.

How can consumers tell the difference between hogget and mutton and lamb?

"The easiest way is the brand. Look for the lamb brand, then look at the colour, the beautiful sweet lighter colour of lamb, the fat colour is lovely and white. That is the difference between lamb and hogget" answers Craig.

For more information on the Choice testing, please visit their website www.choice.com.au and view the Ham Reviewed page under FOOD.