Monday, August 24, 2015

...and now we're back to meat

Although extensive meat species testing has been carried out in Europe in light of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, there has been limited research carried out on this topic in the United States. To our knowledge, the most recent U.S. meat survey was published in 1995.

Researchers from Chapman University have just published two separate studies on meat mislabeling in commercial products in the US. One study focused on identification of species found in ground meat products, and the other focused on game meat species labeling. Both studies used DNA Barcoding for species identification.

In the first study 48 samples were analyzed and 10 were found to be mislabeled. Of those, nine were found to contain additional meat species and one sample was mislabeled in its entirety. Additionally, horse meat, which is illegal to sell in the United States, was detected in two of the samples. The colleagues think that the presence of multiple species suggests the possibility of cross-contamination at the processing facility. Unintentional mislabeling may occur when several species are ground on the same manufacturing equipment, without proper cleaning in between samples. Another trend observed in the study indicates the possibility of lower-cost species being intentionally mixed in with higher-cost species for economic gain.

The second study, focusing on game meat species labeling, used a total of 54 game meat products collected from online retail sources in the United States. Of these, a total of 22 different types of game meat were represented based on the product label. The results showed 10 products to be potentially mislabeled. Two products labeled as bison and one labeled as yak were identified as domestic cattle. Other mislabeling included a product labeled as black bear that was identified as American beaver, and a product labeled as pheasant that was identified as helmeted guinea fowl.

Game meats represent an important specialty market in the United States with an estimate value of $39 billion. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), game meats are defined as exotic meats, animals and birds, which are not in the Meat and Poultry Act. Game meats produced in the United States are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while game meats imported into the U.S. are regulated by the FDA. The latter is already using DNA Barcoding on a regular basis for seafood and species of their dirty 22 list.

Overall, mislabeling was found to be most common in products purchased from online specialty meat distributors (versus supermarkets), showing a 35% rate of mislabeling.

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