It has no doubt come as a surprise to members of the public that traces of horse meat and pig meat have been found in ‘100% beef burgers’ sold by a number of UK high street retailers and that in one case a level of 29% horse meat was found.
The FSA has launched an investigation and is working with retailers and the food industry to see how this happened.
One thing that has not come as a surprise to scientists, is the sophistication of the testing techniques used to detect the presence of horse and pig.
The testing of food authenticity using DNA-based techniques such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is well established in the UK and many official control laboratories and commercial laboratories are accredited to carry out such work.
The FSA has funded a number of projects within this complex analytical area, details of which are available on the Agency website.
One piece of FSA-funded research (project Q01083) helped advance a method for identifying duck, pheasant, venison, horse, donkey and wild boar in meat products.
In 2003, the Agency carried out a survey to detect the presence of horsemeat or donkey meat in salami and salami-type products. A total of 158 types of salami and salami-type products were sampled, including chorizos, mortadella and saucisson produced in several different European countries. Samples were collected from a range of retail and wholesale catering outlets in 30 regions across the UK. Results of DNA analysis showed that only one chorizo sample contained traces of horsemeat. In this case it was a French manufacturer and it was believed that the traces had been caused by cross-contamination.
It should also be noted that, unlike the recent Irish study, no quantitative results were determined and the Agency report simply provided data on the presence/absence of horsemeat.