Meat scandal: Shops blame knives, saws

2013-04-14 16:00

Stellenbosch study kick-starts internal investigations

Food retailer Fruit and Veg City – also the proprietor of Food Lovers Market – is investigating how exotic water buffalo landed up in its meat and has threatened to ban its supplier from future trade.

Of 11 samples tested from four of their stores in three provinces, seven were incorrectly labelled and contained products that were not declared on the label.

Nigel Meintjies, the legal director for Fruit and Veg City, said the retailer took the results seriously.

He also blamed “cross-contamination” between beef, sheep, chicken and pork for the mislabelling on certain products.

Leading retailers this week generally welcomed the research and indicated they were taking steps to ensure that they will, in future, fully comply with the law prescribing the labelling of their products.

They all blamed cross-contamination – the transfer of one type of meat to another through chopping boards, saws, hands and utensils – for the findings.

Shoprite chief executive Whitey Basson said the presence of undeclared meat in certain products was due to the use of shared equipment and utensils in butcheries, rather than “intentional adulteration to mislead consumers”.

Thirty-two Shoprite and Checkers products were tested, of which 20 had the wrong labelling.

Shoprite recently acquired OK Foods.

Three samples were taken from OK and they were all wrongly labelled.

Shoprite attached an email from one of the researchers, Dr Donna Hawthorn, in which she said that undeclared meat in products was, in many cases, the result of cross-contamination.

“The screening method did not test for the quantity of undeclared meat found in affected products, only whether it was present or absent,” said Basson.

He said some of the results “don’t make sense”. In six instances, the undeclared meat was more expensive than the meat declared on the label.

“No butcher in his right mind would intentionally add a small percentage of lamb, which costs more, per kg, to a pure beef sausage, which is cheaper,” said Basson.

If it was not on the label, it was not in the product, said Pick n Pay food director Peter Arnold.

Food safety was the retailer’s top priority and they went to great lengths to ensure their food was safe.

Arnold said the chain carefully selected their suppliers and employed 42 food technologists to test their products.

He said Pick n Pay had commissioned 700 independent scientific tests over the past few weeks and all had proved negative.

There was, internationally, a 1% threshold, or tolerance level, for “undeclared products” in a product to compensate for cross-contamination.

Arnold said the Stellenbosch study had found minute quantities of undeclared animal species in a number of meat products.

DNA testing internationally had produced similar results in food produced by some of the world’s leading food businesses.

Spar group merchandise executive Mike Prentice said that he was pleased that no Spar products contained any exotic meats such as water buffalo or donkey.

He also blamed cross-contamination and said Spar had no malicious intent to defraud or mislead the public.

He admitted the labelling of products needed to be “tightened up” and that the whole industry needed to “jack itself up”.

Woolworths said it has stringent policies and processes to ensure the integrity of their food. They only worked with producers whom they had vetted.

In addition, Woolworths suppliers were audited independently by accredited inspection services and were visited regularly to ensure that the highest standards are maintained.

Bluff Meat Supply – all five their products were wrongly labelled – said it was not surprised by the results because “the same mincer is used to mince the different meats”.

The Durban butchery said the only way to avoid the trace amounts of previously minced products would be to have separate mincers.

Eikeboom Butchery in Stellenbosch also blamed cross-contamination for the presence of pork in the minced beef.

It said it had already revised the labels on its produce to reflect the possible presence of other meat in its mince.

Skaapland butchery, in Cape Town, denied that it added pork to its minced beef and wouldn’t comment further on the research results.

Skaapland has been crowned the best butchery in the Western Cape for three years in a row.

Werner Grobler, the owner of Grobbies Butchery in Durban, said his business has been in existence for 45 years and they “have great integrity” towards his customers, and they would press charges if their names were mentioned in City Press.

“We will never use donkey meat. Where do you purchase that in any case?” asked Grobler.

“We have all our invoices from top accredited abattoirs that do not slaughter donkeys. We often hunt and wonder if venison DNA was mistaken for donkey.”

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