Human tissue in my beef stew!

27 March 2013 - 03:15

Scientists have found traces of human tissue in meat meant for public consumption, but this poses "no threat" to the consumers who eat it.

It has also been found that only 15% of meat being sold has been correctly labelled, which means 85% of the meat in the market is questionable. The findings were presented in parliament yesterday at a briefing on meat inspections.

University of Stellenbosch scientist Louw Hoffman said his team had conducted a microbial food analysis, a "snapshot" which sometimes picked up human DNA on meat samples. He said, however, this was not indicative of risk.

"If I walked into a factory, and the sample I randomly selected to test was a meat sample of which the person de-boning had just picked his nose and then touched the meat, I would get a totally different microbial reading," he said.

Hoffman said the products examined were mostly sausages and mince, and that 95 out of 139 products which were sampled were incorrectly labelled.

But Hoffman said though the meat was incorrectly labelled, there were no health risks to consumers.

Briefing parliament's portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, University of Western Cape forensic scientist Dr Eugenia D'Amato said nearly 43% of samples she had tested which were labelled as game, were, in fact, beef.

D'Amato said horse meat had also been used as a substitute for springbok in biltong, and pork was found in ostrich sausages.

There was also a smaller proportion of kangaroo in samples.

The health department's Mandisa Hlela said though the department's own sampling had found that only 15% of meat products had been correctly labelled, DNA testing was "quite expensive" and was mainly a municipal function.

The department paid about R30000 for 20 samples tested.

"However, we've gone through to the municipalities and the D-Day was the 24th [of March] and we've not received responses from all of them," said Hlela.

She said, however, that not all of the nine provinces had concluded the devolutions of health services, which included food inspection, to municipalities.

MPs have now called for increased policing of local and imported meat products to prevent this sort of mislabelling.

The ANC's Eugene Ngcobo said labelling had to be "fair and straight" so that consumers were informed when they bought either horse or donkey meat.

"We should know, and have a choice," said Ngcobo.

Hoffman said what was also worrying was that allergens were not listed, and that up to 20% of consumers risked allergic reactions to the plant allergens which were found in some of the meat products.

"In the labelling regulations it clearly states that allergens have to be mentioned and noted," said Hoffman.