The study found that anything from soya, donkey, goat and water buffalo were to be found in up to 68% of the 139 minced meats, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meats tested. In other cases, even plant matter was detected.
Needless to say, these ingredients weren’t declared on the products’ packaging labels. Pork (37%) and chicken (23%) were the most commonly detected animal species in products that weren’t supposed to contain them.
“Our study confirms that the mislabelling of processed meats is commonplace in South Africa and not only violates food labelling regulations, but also poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts,” said Hoffman.
Published in the international Food Control journal, the study forms part of a larger research project using DNA-based species authentication to identify commercial fish and game species sold in local restaurants. Cawthorn and Hoffman have already found that a large percentage of these is incorrectly identified. Research into why this occurs is now under way.
“Our findings raise significant concerns about the functioning of the meat supply chain in South Africa,” said Hoffman.
“Clearly, our consumers cannot generally accept that the meat products they buy are correctly labelled,” said Cawthorn, who believes the entire local meat industry needs to take more responsibility in complying with relevant regulations. “The meat industry’s failure to provide vital information on products may not only decrease consumer confidence in their organisations, but also in the meat industry as a whole.”
Targets must be set to improve meat labelling practices and to address the adequacy of authentication monitoring methods. “I don’t believe that the current penalties issued for non-compliance are sufficient to deter fraudulent practices,” said Hoffman.
Contact Prof Louw Hoffman, of Stellenbosch University’s Department of Animal Sciences, at 021 808 4747, or [email protected].