News24 tests supermarket meat

Cape Town - News24 has had samples of meat taken from various retailers tested in a genetics lab. Here’s what we found: South Africans can relax a little regarding the scandal that found traces of horse and water buffalo in local meat supplies.

A test of popular meat from major retailers found no trace of exotic meat, unlike what was described by a senior researcher recently.

"The mislabelling of processed meats is commonplace in South Africa and not only violates food labelling regulations, but also poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts," said Professor Louw Hoffman of the Department of Animal Sciences at Stellenbosch University recently.

However, News24 took samples of boerewors, mince, beef patties and sausage from Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Shoprite and Spar for genetic testing and the result was that the label was fairly consistent with the contents of the product.

"I think a lot of the reason for the publication by [Professor Louw Hoffman] and the Food Lab was lost in the sensation of it," Dr MP Marx managing director of Unistel Medical Laboratories told News24.

Consistent labelling

He emphasised that the labelling was a bigger issue than the contents of the products.

"What he [Hoffman] actually said was the problem he had was not actually the meat that was contained in the products. It was the lack of correspondence between the label and the products in the meat," said Marx.

The results show that the Namakwa Boerewors and Beef Burgers from Pick n Pay; the Beef Mince and Beef Bangers from Woolworths; the Chakalaka Boerewors and Beef Burgers from Spar that were labelled as beef was correct as far as the genetic testing was able to confirm.

The Shoprite Championship Boerewors and Beef Hamburgers contained traces of beef and pork, but that was largely consistent with the label on the packaging.

News24 also had Enterprise French Polony and I&J Beef Patties tested. These proved to be consistent with the package labelling with pork and chicken in the former and the latter consisting of beef.

Marx said that people who are allergic check the labels for accuracy and there are also religious beliefs that dictate the choice of meat consumed.

"If what is in the product doesn't correspond to the label, then that's where the problem is," Marx said.

Exotic ingredients

He conceded that a retailer might import processed foods that may contain exotic ingredients such as kangaroo or water buffalo, but argued that major retail chains in SA would not want to expose themselves to the risk.

"I think the reputable stores... it can damage them too much if they get caught doing that [importing meat from dubious sources]."

The Unistel test could not identify the percentages of the ingredients, nor could it identify how much plant material such as soya is included in the meat.

For most processed meats though, the label indicates the presence of soya.

Marx said that consumers should pay close attention to the label and the texture of the meat to try and ensure that it is acceptable.

"It's very important to have a look at the label, and make sure that what you see in the package is what is on the label. Have a look at your meat and make sure that it looks like meat."

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