Another week, another horse meat contamination revealed. But with profit margins tight for food manufacturers who will absorb the cost of the suggested ramp-up in DNA testing requirements asks Dominic Watkins, senior associate, food sector group at business law firm DWF.
“With pressure mounting on the food industry, brand owners need to make sure the products they sell only contain what’s on the ingredients list. For most, this involves using suppliers that have been externally audited against recognised industry guidelines – like the BRC standards – and that can provide meat to exacting standards and requirements.
“One of the food industry’s current requirements is that meat is periodically DNA tested for the presence of cross-contaminant porcine, poultry and sheep; the proteins most likely to be present in the UK meat market. As horse is not sold in the UK, it has, historically, not been tested for. However, following the recent scandal, contaminant testing will need to be extended to include equine meat.
“In the wake of the Findus scandal, the food manufacturing industry faces a potential drop in consumer confidence. In an effort to try and restore this and verify that the label reflects what is in the product, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced that it now requires meat suppliers to conduct authenticity tests on all beef products for the presence of significant levels of horse meat and provide the FSA with the results.”
More checks on the way
“The FSA has also started a sampling programme of meat in the supply chain in order to ensure that it is what it claims to be. While the sample size is small, with 224 products being tested, it aims to identify and understand what leads to the presence of contaminant meat species.
“As this issue develops it is clear that the industry must have its own, effective checking system in place. Whereas in the past, random checks were sufficient, suppliers will now have to proactively prove that their meat adheres to specification before they can sell it on.
“The issue potentially goes beyond just testing for species of animal and may soon extend to breed. This will especially be the case for meat with a premium association, for example Aberdeen Angus.
“Of course, increased levels of testing will inevitably lead to increased costs all the way through the supply chain. The question is, will this certainty be reflected in the price consumers pay?”