WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT YOU GET
Food fraud is big business. Although the true extent
is uncertain, such practices are calculated to cost the global food
industry up to £25 billion (over ZAR 300 billion) per year and
the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates that up to 10% of commercial
food products may be counterfeit.1-2 In this time of rapid globalisation,
when a single processed food product may contain ingredients sourced
from a dozen different nations, numerous opportunities exist for unscrupulous
food producers to fraudulently substitute or add ingredients which are
cheaper, but not necessarily desirable.
What is the risk of meat species substitution, why
and how does it occur, and what can be done to ensure the authenticity
of the meat products you supply? This newsletter seeks to shed some
light on these topics.
Food fraud is a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and
intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation
of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading
statements made about a product, for economic gain.
- Spink & Moyer (2011) 2
What we have found?
In 2011, one of the FACTS food scientists, Donna Cawthorn, published
a set of results from her PhD study conducted at the University of Stellenbosch,
in which DNA testing was used to reveal that 9% of fish samples collected
from seafood wholesalers in South Africa and a startling 31% of those
collected from retail outlets were mislabelled with regards to species.3
In addition, simultaneous research commissioned by FACTS on various
meat samples in this country has demonstrated that this type of fraud
and species substitution is by no means limited to fish. A further significant
concern revealed through our testing is the potential for meat products
to be contaminated with undeclared species during processing. Cross-contamination
can arise when poorly cleaned equipment or utensils are used for processing
meat from two or more different meat species.
Whether deliberate or unintentional, the effects of
meat product misdescription are similar, and include consumer deception,
potential health risks and the inability of individuals to choose products
for the sake of religious and ethical beliefs...
Why and how is fraud perpetuated?
Due to their high prices, food products such as meat and fish are highly
prone to substitution or adulteration, and such practices are often
relatively simple to get away with. The flesh of many meat species differs
only subtly in appearance and texture, making it difficult to identify
the species based on visual inspection. Once meat is comminuted and
incorporated into value-added products, however, identification based
on appearance and other sensory parameters becomes virtually impossible.
At another level, substitution of meat ingredients may involve the use
of cheaper ingredients from the same declared species, but from different
body parts (typically offal, connective tissue or blood), or the substitutes
may be non-meat ingredients (e.g. plant or dairy sources).4 Apart from
the concerns that meat substitution or adulteration generate from economical,
religious or ethical viewpoints, counterfeit components may be toxic
(e.g. melamine) and the undeclared addition of some ingredients (e.g.
soy, wheat, dairy) can pose health risks for consumers with food allergies
The Orion meat saga
The deliberate substitution of meat products was recently brought to
the forefront in one of the biggest food-related scandals to hit the
media in recent years. In November 2011, numerous news reports emerged
indicating that Orion Cold Storage in Cape Town had been importing various
products from different parts of the world and that the company was
deliberately relabelling these as food-grade and Halaal.5-10 According
to these reports, Orion was accused of, amongst others, importing pork
products from Belgium and Ireland and relabelling them as Halaal sheep
or beef products; importing kangaroo from Australia and water buffalo
from India and selling these as beef products (often Halaal); importing
non-Halaal poultry from Spain (via the UK) and relabelling the goods
as Halaal; and importing non-food-grade milk powder for animal feed
and relabelling it as Halaal skim milk powder fit for human consumption.
These findings not only caused outrage among the Muslim community, but
also sent waves of panic through the entire food industry.
Ensuring meat authenticity
While knowing your meat suppliers and auditing them regularly may be
an obvious step in protecting the authenticity of meat products, in
many cases food fraud cannot be discovered by following a paper trail
and detection requires ‘state of the art’ scientific analysis.1
Today, DNA-based techniques are considered the most appropriate methods
for making species identifications as identical copies of DNA are present
in almost all tissue types of an individual, DNA is relatively stable
at high temperatures and since the diversity afforded by the genetic
code allows differentiation of even very closely-related species.11-13
Over the past few years, FACTS has developed a large
number of DNA-based methods for the identification of meat species,
both in single ingredient commodities (using DNA sequencing) and in
complex food matrices (using species-specific detection methods) (see
our full list of services below). The detection of the compete substitution
of a single meat species with another is one of the more simple scenarios
for identifying food fraud.
In general, DNA sequencing conducted on a queried sample
will produce a DNA sequence or ‘fingerprint’ which can be
compared to a set of known reference sequences deposited in a credible
genetic database. The identity of the specimen can thereby be established,
which is either the same or different to the one expected. Investigating
the partial substitution or adulteration of meat is considerably more
difficult, since it is normally necessary to know the possible identity
of the adulterant before it can be detected. To help alleviate the aforementioned
difficulties, FACTS is very excited to have recently optimised an animal
species screening method which allows the detection of 14 different
animal species in a single reaction (more details below). This method,
which relies on the use of species-specific DNA probes to detect certain
target DNA sequences, will significantly reduce the costs and labour
required to ensure product authenticity.
Food fraud is indeed a food industry issue. Consumers
are highly reliant on the accurate and complete declaration of food
constituents to enable them to make product choices that are consistent
with their lifestyles. Brand loyalty can be severely compromised should
this be found not to be the case. As such, DNA testing can be of great
value for the routine monitoring of meat product authenticity and should
be conducted whenever a case of meat adulteration or contamination is
Meat adulteration is not new…
The adulteration of foods with undeclared ingredients or the substitution
of high-valued foods with lower-valued varieties for illicit financial
gain is probably as old as commerce itself.
• In 1981, the Australian meat industry
came into the spotlight when it was found that meat from horse, donkey,
buffalo and kangaroo were substituted for higher-priced Australian beef
exported to the USA. This ‘meat substitution scandal’ threatened
Australia’s lucrative beef export industry.14
• Floes-Munguia et al. (2000) detected undeclared horse meat
in 9 of 23 (39%) uncooked commercial hamburger meat samples collected
from Mexican markets, while undeclared horse and pork meat were detected
in 5 of 17 (29%) Mexican sausage (chorizo) samples.15
• In 2003, it was revealed on BBC that vast quantities of
frozen chicken entering the UK each week were injected with undeclared
beef proteins. Simultaneous testing by the FSA showed that pork protein
was present in at least half of the chicken meat destined for the UK
catering industry, which was in fact marked as ‘Halaal’.16
• DNA testing conducted by Farouk et al. (2006) on 30 food
samples collected from the Malaysian market, which were not expected
to contain pork, revealed that three were contaminated with pork material,
two of which were declared as ‘Halaal’ products.17
• In a study conducted in Turkey, Ayaz et al. (2006) used
the ELISA to test 24 sausage, 13 salami and 11 frankfurter products,
all declared only as beef. The authors found that 39%, 36% and 27%,
respectively, contained poultry as well as beef. Of six raw meat samples
declared as beef, one sample was found to be substituted with donkey,
and another with deer meat.18
For more information on pricing or other services that
we offer, please contact Carine at 021 551 2993/ [email protected]
1. Shears, P. (2010). Food fraud – a current issue but an old
problem. British Food Journal, 112(2), 198-213.
2. Spink, J. & Moyer, D.C. (2011). Defining the public health threat
of food fraud. Journal of Food Science, 76(9), 157-163.
3. Cawthorn, D.M., Steinman, H.A. & Witthuhn, R.C. (2011). DNA barcoding
reveals a high incidence of fish species misrepresentation and substitution
on the South African market. Food Research International, 46(1), 30-40.
4. Young, O.A. Frost, D.A., West, J. & Braggins, T.A. (2001). Analytical
methods. In: Meat Science and Applications (edited by Y.H. Hui, W.K.
Nip, R.W. Rogers & O.A. Young). Pp. 103-126. New York: Marcel Dekker.
5. Anonymous (2011). South African Muslims furious at ‘halal pork’
scandal. BBC News Africa, 16 November 2011. URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15753835.
6. Magubane, T. (2011). Meat racket exposed. The Witness, 12 November
2011. URL www.witness.co.za/index.php?show
7. Schroeder, F. (2011). ‘Pork sold as halaal meat’. Cape
Argus, 10 November 2011. URL www.iol.co.za/capeargus/pork-sold-as-halaal-meat-1.1175676.
8. Schroeder, F. (2011). Managers ‘knew of pork sold as halaal’.
Cape Argus, 18 November 2011. URL www.iol.co.za/cape
9. Vadi, A. (2011). Muslim community angry at yet another Halaal meat
scandal. CII Broadcasting, 10 November 2011. URL http://www.ciibroadcasting.com/2011/11/10/muslim-community-angry-at-yet-another-halaal-meat-scandal
10. Wiener, M. (2011). Questionable meat products in the spotlight.
Eye Witness News, 10 November 2011. URL http://www.ewn.co.za/Story.aspx?Id=77224.
11. Lenstra, J.A. (2003). DNA methods for identifying plant and animal
species in food. In: Food Authenticity and Traceability (edited by M.
Lees). Pp. 34-53. Florida, USA: CRC Press.
12. Mackie, I.M. (1996). Authenticity of fish. In: Food Authentication
(edited by P.R. Ashurt & M.J. Dennis). Pp. 140-170. London, UK:
Blackie Academic and Professional.
13. Woolfe, M. & Primrose, S. (2004). Food forensics: using DNA
technology to combat misdescription and fraud. Trends in Biotechnology,
14. Grabosky, P. (1989). The meat substitution scandal of 1981. In:
Stains on a white collar: fourteen studies in corporate crime or corporate
harm (edited by P. Grabosky & A. Sutton). Pp. 60-75. Sydney : Federation
15. Floes-Munguia, M.E., Bermudez-Almada, M.C. & Vazquez-Moreno,
L. (2000). Detection of adulteration in processed traditional meat products.
Journal of Muscle Foods, 11, 319-332.
16. Anonymous (2003). Call to ban rogue meat in chicken. BBC News, 20
June 2003. URL http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_
17. Farouk, A-E., Batcha, M.F., Greiner, R., Salleh, H.M., Salleh, M.R.
& Sirajudin, A.R. (2006). The use of a molecular technique for the
detection of porcine ingredients in the Malaysian food market. Saudi
Medical Journal, 27(9), 1397-1400.
18. Ayaz, Y., Ayaz, N.D. & Erol, I. (2006). Detection of species
in meat and meat products using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Journal
of Muscle Foods, 17, 214–220.