Under Finnish Law, ‘Meatballs’ Are Now Just Plain Old ‘Balls’

The law says the animal product they're made of doesn’t really count as meat because it’s been “mechanically recovered.”


By the look of it, you’d think major Finnish retailer Kesko’s meatballs had gone vegetarian Monday when the company’s website removed the word “meat” from the product’s label, renaming it as just “balls.” The balls in question still contain about 52 percent animal product. But the company has decided that under Finnish law, that animal product doesn’t really count as meat, because it’s been “mechanically recovered.”

Heta Rautpalo, a product research manager for Kesko’s food division, explained the situation to Finnish broadcaster Yle: “Mechanically recovered meat cannot be described as meat. It’s mechanically separated from the bone after the parts that can be defined as meat have been removed from the carcass with a knife.”

Two years after inspectors found significant amounts of horse-meat in European beef, Kesko insisted that there was nothing suspicious about the move to de-“meat” its balls. Explaining why Kesko uses the not-quite-meat, Rautpalo said that “it’s worthwhile to use those ingredients somehow and they are well-suited for use in these kinds of ground meat products.”

The law forcing Kesko to separate the word “meat” from its balls has already caused several other companies to do the same, according to Yle.

Finland isn’t the only place where laws against false food advertising have led to some pretty awkward workarounds. To stay in line with regulations, containers of a lemonade made by the American product line Minute Maid display prominent “contains 0% juice” labels. By describing twinkies as “creme-filled,” Hostess dodges a U.S. law that wouldn’t let the company call them “cream-filled” because they contain nothing remotely resembling a dairy product. International laws about “geographical indications” reserve certain names for products from specific locations — such as Parma ham and Scotch whisky. And that has reduced some manufacturers that once produced champagne to instead making the much less glamorous-sounding “sparkling wine.”


Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. @jkdrennan

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