Species identification makes headlines

In recent days, species identification testing has hit front pages around the globe.

Following routine tests in Ireland, officials found 10 out of 27 beef burgers tested contained horse DNA and 23 of the 27 contained pig DNA. The investigation was part of a probe into meat authenticity, according to Time.

There is no risk to human health, officials have said.

Regardless, grocery stores across the U.K. have pulled the implicated products from their shelves.

Although the investigation into how the horse and pig DNA got into the beef burgers is ongoing, the public reaction has been intense. While the consumption of horse meat isn’t unheard of, the thought of eating an animal that “has supported humans as a source of labor, transportation and friendship” is disconcerting to many, Time notes.

It’s not just the horse meat that is a concern; for many, consuming pork is culturally and/or religiously forbidden.

That’s where speciation testing comes in. Speciation tests are used to confirm the integrity of animal products, such as beef, for safety, economic and ethical reasons. Verifying the species of animal contained in meat and meat products helps prevent the substitution of other less suitable species into products, which is especially important in countries and religious communities where eating certain types of meat is prohibited.

From a health standpoint, knowing exactly which species is in meat products is key, especially when it comes to disease and drug residue prevention. For example, horses in the U.S. are not raised as food animals and in 2007, all horse slaughter plants were closed. However, horses still may be exported to other countries, such as Canada and Mexico for slaughter. Some of these horses, especially retired racehorses, were given medications that are prohibited for use in humans and residues may persist into finished product, according to a study in Food and Chemical Toxicology.

Today, many nations employ species identification as a routine part of their food safety protocols, including Ireland.

For more information on Neogen’s species identification kits, click here.

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