With Professor Louw Hoffman

The food industry has been in the media spotlight this month, following the release of the results from a recent study carried out by Dr Donna-Maree Cawthorn and Professor Louw Hoffman of the Stellenbosch University Department of Animal Sciences.  With assistance from Harris Steinman of Food & Allergy Consulting & Testing Services in Milnerton, their study identified soya, goat, donkey and water buffalo DNA within the processed meat products which they tested.
Besides the labelling issue regarding undeclared ingredients, Professor Hoffman voiced his concern about the presence of donkey meat in the products, given the fact that there are no abattoirs in South Africa which are registered to slaughter donkeys.

This fact was verified by the National Council of SPCAs, which confirmed that abattoirs in South Africa need to be registered with the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries. Despite being the only animal welfare organisation that is not government funded, the SPCA inspects abattoirs across the country.  According to the head of the Livestock Unit of the NSPCA, abattoirs are registered to slaughter the following livestock:
  • goats
  • sheep
  • cattle
  • pigs
  • poultry
  • horses
  • ostrich
So, when it comes to donkeys, there are indeed, no facilities in South Africa which are registered to slaughter and process these animals. This means that these products may not necessarily be compliant with health and safety standards.

In addition, the products tested in the study were found to contain unlabeled soya and goat. Chicken and pork are also often included in processed meat products, due to their lower costs.  However, undeclared ingredients are a concern from an allergen perspective, and also for religious reasons in some sectors of the population.
Professor Hoffman informed us that the water buffalo found in his study was imported from South America and or Asia.  Apparently the regulations allowed for the buffalo to be imported as ‘bovine’ product.  Apparently proposed changes to the Meat Safety Act at the end of 2012, have since addressed this issue.

Both Professor Hoffman and the NSPCA commented that there may well be large quantities of other unusual meats in circulation in South Africa – mention was made kangaroo. Following closely on the heels of this, came another study which revealed that there is species substitution occurring within game meat and biltong. Some of the species identified included kangaroo, giraffe and mountain zebra (which is on the endangered species list).

So how do we avoid this?

Professor Hoffman believes that retailers and small butcheries need to be assisted to prevent this situation from continuing. There needs to be education and training on issues such as Supplier Quality, Labelling and the need for a proper ‘paper trail’.  If manufacturers exercised stricter controls on their suppliers, and ensured traceability of products, then it would be much harder for undeclared products to creep into the supply chain. He added that random testing in supermarkets would be an additional way of ensuring that this problem is avoided.

Relevant authorities have started their own investigation into this issue.  With the increased media awareness, consumers are also going to be asking more questions and evaluating the validity of product labels.  Expectations will be high for suppliers to be more transparent.

References

http://www.investigativegenetics.com/content/pdf/2041-2223-4-6.pdf

http://mg.co.za/article/2013-02-27-meet-your-meat-scientist-urge-consumers-to-question-what-they-eat

http://www.news24.com/Green/News/DNA-reveals-SA-biltong-scandal-20130301

http://www.nda.agric.za/

http://www.ostrichsa.co.za/

http://www.doh.gov.za/docs/regulations/2010/reg0146.pdf

http://www.nda.agric.za/vetweb/Legislation/Meat%20safety/Comment/GAME%20SCHEME%20FINAL%20DRAFT%20FOR%20PUBLIC%20COMMENTS%20on%20website.pdf

http://www.nda.agric.za/vetweb/Legislation/Meat%20safety/Revised%20IMI%20Submission%20to%20MinTech%20-%2026%20Nov%202012%20(2).pdf

http://www.doh.gov.za

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