DNA profiling leaves no room for beefs
ANALYSIS:Advanced genetic technologies are making it increasingly difficult for food producers to misrepresent their products. DNA analysis readily detected the sometimes minute quantities of pig and horse meat found in the burger products tested.
It also points up the challenge faced by bodies such as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which commissioned the DNA tests.
It is not feasible to check every meat product that comes into the country and so our supermarket shelves may still be displaying burgers that contain meat other than the expected beef.
The DNA technology used to test the meat, sometimes referred to as DNA fingerprinting or profiling, was developed by Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester back in 1984. It allowed one DNA profile to be compared directly with another.
Within three years it developed into a service mostly used to prove – or disprove – paternity.
The huge public scare triggered by so-called mad cow disease and its transmission to humans encouraged the adaptation of the technology to animals.
Trinity College Dublin’s Prof Patrick Cunningham converted the technology and co-founded DNA profiling company IdentiGEN.
The technology allowed the company to trace the origins of a given piece of meat right back to the farm that reared the animal.
IdentiGEN used this technology to test the samples submitted for the authority’s survey. Its results were independently confirmed by Eurofins in Germany. There is absolutely no question that these beef products contained DNA from pigs and/or horses.
The authority is examining the possibility it may have reached the beef as a food ingredient derived from pig and horse meat rather than as actual meat. This would not be true of one Tesco sample which contained 29 per cent horse meat.
Ingredients of this kind can do a range of things to alter taste, consistency or cooking characteristics, and have long been used by the food industry.
In 2003 chicken fillets processed in the Netherlands were found to contain pig and beef DNA, added to make the fillets retain extra water to bump up their weight when sold.
In many cases the added ingredients help a company’s profits while providing no benefit to the consumer.