DNA Barcoding Would Help Solve Game Meat Mislabeling In South Africa
March 2, 2013

80 Percent Of South African Meat Mislabeled

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new study has pointed out some serious flaws in meat labeling in some South African grocery stores.

Researchers working with game meat in South Africa suggested in the journal Investigative Genetics that DNA barcodes should be used to help identify even closely related species.

The authors wrote after the study about how the labeling of game meat in South Africa is very poor, with different species being substituted nearly 80 percent the time in food packaging. Game meat in South Africa is a large business, with nearly 10,000 wildlife farms. The meat is considered to be "healthier" than beef because it is both lower in fat and cholesterol, and perceived to be lower in additives.

By using mitochondria COI BNA barcoding and cytb sequencing, researchers analyzed samples of game meat from supermarkets, wholesalers and other outlets, comparing them to known samples and library sequences.

Researchers found that out of the 146 samples taken from these markets, 100 of them had been mislabeled. They reported that all of the beef samples were correctly labeled, but 92 percent of meat labeled kudu was inaccurately labeled.

According to the study, only 24 percent of springbok and ostrich biltong was actually labeled correctly. The rest of the mislabeled meat included horse, impala, hartebeest, wildebeest, waterbok, eland, gemsbok, duiker, giraffe, kangaroo, lamb, or beef.

Another worrying fact that came out of the study was when researchers found that one game meat labeled "zebra" was actually mountain zebra, a "red listed" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A red listed status for an animal means the species faces extinction. The authors also said they detected Damaliscus pygargus meat in the samples, which is composed of two subspecies with one listed by IUCN as "near threatened."

"The delivery of unidentifiable animal carcasses to market and the general lack of regulations increases the chances of species mislabeling and fraud," said Maria Eugenia D'Amato from the University of the Western Cape. "This has implications for species safety but also has cultural and religious implications. This technique is also able to provide new information about the identity of animals and meant that we found several animals whose DNA had been misidentified in the scientific libraries."

The authors wrote that the reliability of commercial labeling of game meat in South Africa is very poor. They said the extensive substation of wild game has important implications for conservation and commerce.

More stories are emerging about how horse meat keeps showing up in products labeled as beef across the world. With the rising conflict of mislabeled meat, a DNA barcode system could be thought of as a part of the solution.