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British meat industry to introduce DNA testing

By Carina Perkins and Ed Bedington , 05-Feb-2013
Last updated the 05-Feb-2013 at 15:27 GMT

Some in the British meat industry are set to introduce DNA testing on meat products to reassure consumers in the wake of the horse meat contamination scandal.

Several processors and supermarkets have said they are planning to introduce the tests as a voluntary measure to ensure that their products are not contaminated.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) said yesterday that it would publish the results of industry testing to provide a "clearer picture" of standards in the food chain. It added that these results would be made publically available.

"The FSA and the food industry will now agree a standardised sampling and testing system which will meet accredited standards and test to an agreed level of DNA," it stated.

The announcement came as the FSA revealed that supplier in Northern Ireland was under investigation after meat held in a cold store tested positive for horse DNA. Two out of 12 samples taken at the facility contained 80% horse meat. Officials said that the meat was potentially linked to the contamination at Silvercrest Foods, the Irish processor at the centre of the horse meat scandal.

It also emerged yesterday that another Irish meat plant, Rangeland Foods, was forced suspend production after discovering horse DNA in a consignment of meat from Poland. Tests revealed that the raw material was 75% horse meat. The company, a former supplier to McDonald's, said that the meat was received in early January and had not entered production.

In a separate incident, it was revealed over the weekend that some halal beef products served in UK prisons contained pig DNA. The products were supplied by foodservice distributor 3663 and produced by Northern Ireland processor McColgan’s Quality Food Limited. An investigation into the source of the contamination has been launched.

NIR technology

Philippe Acas, from Norwegian tech firm Prediktor, told GlobalMeatNews.com at the International Production and Processing Expo in Atlanta, that High-tech Near Infrared (NIR) technology could have helped UK and Irish processors avoid recent contamination scandals.

He said his system, the Spektron, was capable of measuring and analysing production in real time, and while more commonly used to analyse fat content in products such as sausage, burgers and other processed products, he said the system would have spotted the horse meat among the beef.

“We calibrate the system to analyse the products it is measuring, and it could have detected the horse in there. It might not have been able to tell you it was horse, but the measurements would have shown you that some of the product was not beef, and that would have stopped production.”

He said the Spektron, which can be adapted to most systems, was typically used to monitor, measure and control lean content of products, was accurate to 0.5-1% and could provide a considerable saving to companies.

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