Cape Town - As the horse meat scandal rages in Europe, top local researchers have found “fraudulent meat products” across South Africa. The study found that anything from soya, donkey, goat and water buffalo was found in up to 68 percent of the minced meats, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meats that were tested.

In other cases, undeclared plant matter was detected.

These ingredients were not declared on the products’ packaging labels.

The study was published in the international Food Control journal, and was carried out by Dr Donna-Maree Cawthorn and Professor Louw Hoffman of the Stellenbosch University Department of Animal Sciences, with Harris Steinman of Food & Allergy Consulting & Testing Services in Milnerton.

“Our study confirms that 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.

The study found that soya, donkey, goat and water buffalo were contained in up to 68 percent of the 139 minced meats, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meats that were tested.

Hoffman told the Cape Argus the meats had been tested in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town.

The researchers used DNA-based molecular techniques to evaluate the extent of meat product mislabelling. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to detect undeclared plant proteins such as soya and gluten in the samples.

Of the 139 samples tested, 95 (68 percent) contained species which were not declared on the product labelling. The scapegoats in general were sausages, burger patties and deli meats.

Soya and gluten were found in 28 percent of the samples, without being identified specifically as plant material on the labels of the specific meat products.

A strong case of meat substitution was also reported. Pork (37 percent) and chicken (23 percent) were the most commonly detected animal species in products that were not supposed to contain them.

“Unconventional species such as donkey, goat and water buffalo were also discovered in a number of products,” said Hoffman, who is regarded as the world’s foremost researcher on aspects of game meat. Last month he was the first South African to be honoured by the American Meat Science Society with its International Lectureship Award.

Asked specifically about the prevalence of pork in halaal foods, he said DNA testing did not quantify the presence of meats but they had found “some cause for concern”.

This meant that while pork may not have been present in halaal foods, there had been some pork contamination, which could have been the result of mincing machines being used for beef and pork, for example.

“Even though we have local regulations that protect consumers from being sold falsely described or inferior foodstuffs, we need these measures to be appropriately enforced,” said Hoffman.

Stellenbosch University’sDr Donna-Maree Cawthorn said the meat industry needed to take more responsibility in complying with relevant regulations.

“Clearly, our consumers cannot generally accept that the meat products they buy are correctly labelled,” she said.

“The meat industry’s failure to provide vital information on products may not only decrease consumer confidence in their organisations, but also in the meat industry as a whole.”

Cape Argus