FSA, industry to implement additional species identification testing program

Food businesses that sell beef products must now test their goods to ensure they don’t contain horse or swine DNA as part of a new program, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced.

The decision comes on the heels of the discovery of horse and swine DNA in beef products in the U.K. last month, such as burgers. The discovery was the result of a probe into meat authenticity in Ireland. Of the 27 beef burgers tested, 10 contained horse DNA and 23 contained pig DNA.

Officials previously have said there is no risk to human health; however, stores across the U.K. have pulled the implicated products from their shelves.

The new testing program, which was announced earlier this week, was agreed upon by the FSA and industry officials with the goal of addressing “how testing can maintain consumer confidence in the accuracy of food labeling,” according to an FSA statement.

FSA, along with industry officials, has agreed to publish the results of the testing program as well as if any action was taken.

The study also aims to find out how horse and swine DNA got into beef products so it can be “explained, eliminated or correctly labeled,” FSA notes. The new testing program will build upon sampling already in the works.

In all, 224 samples will be collected throughout the country by 28 local authorities. The authorities were chosen based on population dispersal throughout the U.K. (Read the entire sampling protocol here.)

“This is a shared problem, and it needs shared solutions,” the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Food and Farming Minister David Heath said in a statement. “Food businesses’ agreement to give regular updates on meat testing is a significant move that will give consumers confidence in what they’re buying. It’s now important that the industry starts sharing this information as soon as possible.”

Test results must be in by Feb. 15. A full report is expected by April.

Species identification testing often is a routine part of many nations’ food safety protocols, including Ireland. These tests are used to confirm the integrity of animal products, such as beef, for safety, economic and ethical reasons. This helps prevent the substitution of other less suitable species into products, which is especially important in cultures and religious communities where the consumption of certain types of meat are forbidden.

From a health standpoint, species identification helps ensure animals treated with veterinary drugs not used in food animals – such as cattle – don’t make their way into the consumer food chain.

For more information on species identification testing from Neogen, click here.

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