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EATING game is considered an authentic South African experience for tourists, but you are not always guaranteed of being dished up the fancy meat you ordered off the menu at city restaurants.
The warthog could in fact be pig, and smoked springbok carpaccio the common ostrich.
These are some of the findings after Consumer Watch arranged scientific tests of meat being at a number of city restaurants.
DNA tests were conducted by a doctor in Food Science at Stellenbosch University.
Food scientists also carried out tests on meat at butcheries countrywide, revealing that 68 percent of the products contained meat species which were not declared on the label. Of all the meats, pork and chicken were the most undeclared species.
The City Grill steakhouse at the Waterfront offers crocodile, warthog, springbok, ostrich, kudu and venison as its signature dishes.
But Consumer Watch was tipped off that the restaurant was using meat substitutes.
It commissioned an expert in DNA-based species identification from Stellenbosch University to test some of the restaurant’s more exotic offerings. She visited the restaurant in a party of four one evening in late September.
Between them they ordered one starter – smoked springbok carpaccio – and six main meals: ostrich fillet steak (R195); warthog (R169); crocodile (R179); kudu (R175); springbok (R175) and the giant grilled mixed venison skewer, comprising crocodile, ostrich, warthog, kudu and venison sausage (R295).
They removed small pieces of each meat, labelled them and later DNA-tested them in a lab.
The tests revealed that while the ostrich and crocodile dishes were authentic, the following six substitutions had taken place on that day:
The smoked springbok carpaccio
was identified as common ostrich;
The warthog served was identified as pig;
The kudu at the restaurant was identified as black wildebeest;
The springbok was identified as fallow deer;
The warthog (from the grilled mixed venison skewer) was identified as pig; and
The kudu (from the grilled mixed venison skewer) was identified as black wildebeest.
Asked to respond, City Grill general manager Barry Nieuwoudt said while the restaurant management was “aware of rumours surrounding meat substitution in the industry”, they were unaware some of their dishes “may have been affected”.
“Your findings have certainly shaken us up and we intend to be proactive in preventing something like this happening again,” Nieuwoudt said.
“We have taken all affected dishes off our menu,” he said.
“Only once we are completely satisfied that the meat we have been supplied is what is described on our menu will we reintroduce these dishes.
“As your tests show, the only way to really know the difference in packaged game meat is to conduct DNA testing.”
Nieuwoudt said the restaurant intended to adopt “more stringent means” to ensure that they were getting what they ordered.
“To this end we intend consulting with experts in the field to assess and to determine the best way of doing this.
“In the interim our intention is to conduct similar tests to what you carried out on an ad hoc basis on game meat supplied to us and to inform our suppliers that that is what we intend to do.”
He declined to reveal how many suppliers had provided the substituted meat in question.
As an additional test, the same party of scientists visited the Hussar Grill in Willowbridge where they ordered two starters and two main courses and took samples from the meat served in all four dishes.
While the beef biltong was found to be beef, and the bushman’s kebab comprised kudu, eland and gemsbok as claimed on the menu, there were two substitutions.
The cured springbok loin carpaccio starter was in fact kudu, as was the “game steak” main course, which the waiter said was gemsbok.
Hussar Grill Willowbridge owner Russell Minter-Brown said the game steak was indeed kudu and the discrepancy was either a “communication error” on the part of the waiter or the kitchen staff.
As for the “springbok” carpaccio, he said, it was sold to him as springbok, not kudu, by his supplier, and he provided Consumer Watch with the invoices relating to that batch and others around that time, as proof of this, as well as a photograph of the vacuum packed product, marked as “springbok carpaccio”.
“I obviously made immediate contact with the specific supplier who is a Cape Town-based agent for game farms in the Eastern Cape, and have asked them to provide us with a full and detailed explanation in writing.
“We are currently of the view that we might indeed have inadvertently been the victim of a level of fraudulent activity and we are considering our options in this regard.
“I will forward further information to you as soon as it becomes available to us. Many thanks for opening our eyes.”