A study conducted last year by the University of Stellenbosch Animal Sciences department has found that more than 80 of 139 meat products (about 60%!) from a range of supermarkets around South Africa were found to contain ingredients not specified on the labels, City Press reported yesterday. All local retailers were incriminated in the study, but most have carefully minced their words, not accepting responsibility for the findings.
The results of the study conducted between April and August 2012 were initially withheld, but a Media24 Investigations application for ‘Access to Information’ was successful in making the detailed information available. The key findings of the study were that:
* almost 60% of the meat products tested contained the ‘DNA’ of donkey, water buffalo, goat, and pork, which were not specified on the product labels. More specifically
+ Food Lover’s Market Westville’s cheese beef burgers contained the DNA of water buffalo, sheep, and chicken, unlabeled, in addition to the beef
+ Mutton mince from the same Food Lover’s Market also contained beef, pork, and chicken
+ Boerewors from Grobbies Butchery in KwaZulu-Natal was found to also contain pork, sheep, donkey, and chicken
+ Checkers Stellenmbosch’s housebrand beef boerewors also contained pork
+ Mutton bangers at the same Checkers branch also contained beef and pork.
+ Pick ‘n Pay East Rand Mall’s boerewors housebrand specifies beef, but was found to contain the DNA of pork and sheep.
+ Woolworths’ French polony contained DNA of chicken
* some products do not contain the main meat ingredient reflected on the pack, so that a beef burgers were found to be more chicken than beef.
The study was conducted last year under the guidance of the University’s Professor Louw Hoffman, ‘one of the world’s foremost meat researchers’, just after food labeling legislation was introduced, demanding far stricter food labeling requirements. The new legislation allows for stiff fines and even imprisonment for non-compliance, but appears to not have been actioned yet. The University stated that the DNA presence in the samples tested did not imply a health risk to consumers, and could have come from using the same equipment on the same surfaces for the cutting or mincing of different meat types, without cleaning them in between.
The National Consumer Commission had meat tested which had been imported from Brazil via Sweden, after a tip-off that it may contain horse meat, but this ingredient was not found. Ironically infamous chef Gordon Ramsay endorsed Checkers steak and also its Championship Boerewors in a TV advertising campaign last October – he may regret his endorsement, given the release of yesterday’s findings, indicating that 20 of 32 Checkers and Shoprite products were incorrectly labeled.
Professor Hoffman concluded that meat product mislabeling is a common occurrence in South Africa, which is illegal, but it is also offensive to religious groups not eating certain meat types, is unethical, and could be unhealthy!
Most supermarket chains had their PR machines issuing statements immediately, mincing their words about a finding that can hurt their businesses badly. All were quick to blame ‘cross-contamination’ for the test results, reported News24. Woolworths said that it would investigate, believing that ‘cross contact‘ was the cause, and not ‘deliberate adulteration‘. Shoprite also indicated that it had not deliberately misled consumers, and that it did not make economic sense to add lamb to a beef product, due to its higher cost. Pick ‘n Pay stated that the traces of other meat types were ‘minute’, and within the 1% allowance of undeclared products caused by cross-contamination. Spar said that the industry should improve labeling.
The international horse-meat scandal, and the results released of the local meat labeling study are cause for concern, and are likely to move consumers to reduce their (especially processed) meat intake, to buy at more upmarket supermarkets such as Woolworths, and/or to go back to buying meat from a trusted butcher.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage