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UK meat probe: Concerns over transparency amid meat DNA mix-up

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-09-06  Views: 21
Core Tip: Concerns are being raised about the lack of transparency in the quality and origin of meat products following a probe into meat contamination.
 Concerns are being raised about the lack of transparency in the quality and origin of meat products following a probe into meat contamination. The probe revealed that that more than one-fifth of meat samples tested last year in the UK found DNA from animals not on the label.
The BBC has examined the issue of meat contamination in the UK with a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) which revealed that from 665 results collected by the FSA (from England, Wales and Northern Ireland), 145 were “partly or wholly made up of unspecified meat.” 
The FSA said the samples – which came from 487 businesses, including restaurants and supermarkets – were “consistent with deliberate inclusion.” The inclusion of DNA at a proportion of 1 percent or greater should be considered consistent with “deliberate inclusion,” the agency says. 
The tests are understood to have targeted businesses that were suspected of “compliance issues.”
According to the BBC, 73 contaminated samples came from retailers, 50 from restaurants and 22 came from manufacturing or food processing plants. 
The Freedom of Information Action – which gives people the right to access recorded information held by public sector organizations – also show a series of results about the test samples including examples of pork hidden in meat sold as lamb, some samples containing DNA from up to four different animals and other samples contained no trace of the meat that appeared on the product’s label. 
The most commonly found contaminate was cow DNA followed by pig, chicken, sheep and turkey, while meat labeled as lamb was found to “most likely to contain traces of other animals’ DNA, followed by beef and goat.”
Mincemeat was found to be the most commonly mislabeled product and sausages, kebabs and restaurant curries were also found to have mislabeling issues. In terms of ready meals, there were examples of spaghetti Bolognese, curries, pizza and a portion of ostrich meat that only contained beef.
An FSA spokesperson told the BBC that their findings are “not representative of the wider food industry” and that it’s down to local authorities to take the lead on any formal investigation that may lead to prosecutions because it is the local authority which procures the meat sample before sending the results to the FSA.
A Food Standards Agency spokesperson says: “These figures are from Local Authorities who carry out sampling programs which are designed to focus on specific food businesses types where meat substitution is more likely to occur.”
“The number of unsatisfactory samples is a result of this targeted approach where businesses which don’t comply are sampled multiple times, and the figures are not representative of the wider food industry.”
“Where problems are found, local authorities can consider appropriate action to protect customers and improve compliance, which may include a formal warning or taking enforcement action such as prosecutions or cautions.”
The BBC also makes the point that obtaining a clear and accurate picture of the broader food industry is difficult because less than half of local authorities submitted meat sampling data to the UK’s Food Surveillance System (UKFSS) last year. 
The UKFSS, which is part of the FSA, is a national database for the central storage of analytical results from food and feed samples from enforcement authorities (Local Authorities and Port Health Authorities (PHA)), as part of their official controls.
According to the FSA, it holds this information for “the purpose of surveillance and policy development, identifying local, regional and national trends in food and feed sampling, to help define and target future sampling programs and to meet statutory obligations on reporting monitoring results for chemicals and residues in food and feed to EFSA.”
The findings of the BBC’s FoI come five years after the 2013 horse meat scandal that impacted both the UK and Europe when foods advertised as containing beef were found to contain undeclared or improperly declared horse meat – as much as 100 percent of the meat content in some cases. 
During the scandal, beef products from several Irish and British supermarkets were found to contain significant amounts of horse DNA. The presence of undeclared meat was not a health issue, and the horsemeat scandal showed a breakdown in the traceability of the food supply chain and the risk that potentially harmful ingredients could have been included as well. 
Campaigning and lobbying animal welfare organization, Compassion in World Farming, told the BBC that untraceable ingredients made it more difficult for animal welfare to be “part of consumers’ shopping decisions.”
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