One-fifth of meat contains unspecified DNA

Mystery meat: One sample sold as ostrich meat was found to contain 100% beef.

Do we care too much about what’s in our food? Last year, more than one in five product tests found meat from an animal not on the label. Our diets are full of other surprises.

Beef comes from cows, right? Well, it turns out the beef in your spaghetti bolognese might have come from a goat, pig, sheep, duck or chicken as well.

Tests have revealed that more than one-fifth of meat sample tests in the UK last year found meat from animals not on the label. Products labelled as lamb were the most likely to contain traces of DNA from other animals.

Some of the samples — which came from restaurants, supermarkets and processing plants — contained DNA from four different animals, while others contained no trace from the meat on the product’s label.

The FSA says the levels of mislabelled meat found in the products suggest “deliberate inclusion” and that the relevant local authorities must decide whether to prosecute suppliers.

The news comes five years after the horse meat scandal highlighted just how little we know about where our food comes from. In recent years, concerns about the food industry’s lack of transparency have helped drive “clean-eating” trends.

According to Nielsen, almost 90% of consumers say they would pay more for higher quality, natural foods.

Certainly, the ingredients lists of popular processed products make for uncomfortable reading. While bakers no longer use sawdust to bulk up bread, you may still be consuming sand in your soup.

Vanilla and strawberry flavours are often enhanced with castoreum, which is secreted in the urine of beavers, and US food laws permit up to 19 maggots in a 3.5-ounce can of mushrooms.

Should we be disgusted? Looking across the globe, there are few universal rules on what we find appetising. In Japan, tuna eyeballs and wasp crackers are common snacks, while the Middle Eastern dish Khash is made from stewed cow’s heads and feet.

The human digestive system is also incredibly adaptable. French entertainer Michel Lotito ate seven TV sets, 15 shopping trolleys and one aeroplane over the course of his life.

Do we care too much about what’s in our food?

You are what you eat

Absolutely, say some. We eat all of the animals found in the samples, so what difference does it make? It’s a privilege to live in a time when we can sustain ourselves with a quick trip to the supermarket, rather than through hours of back-breaking labour, rearing animals and growing crops. As long as regulators ensure the food we eat is safe and it tastes good, who cares?

Not so, argue others. If we can’t even trust suppliers to tell us what animal we’re eating, how can we trust them to observe hygiene practices? Anything could be in there. No one likes being lied to, and it shows how disconnected we’ve become from what we eat. Not to mention the religious issues for Muslims and Jews if pork products are incorrectly labelled.

You Decide

  1. Is the thought of eating mislabelled meat disgusting? Why/why not?
  2. Would you like to kill and eat your own meat?

Activities

  1. Research the different steps involved for meat to get to from the farm to your plate. Draw a timeline.
  2. Research the food industry and its potential impact on our health and environment. Write an essay considering the statement: “We should all give up meat.”

Some People Say...

“When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh.”

Jonathan Safran Foer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Out of 665 meat samples collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 145 were partly or wholly made up of unspecified meat. The samples came from 487 businesses, including restaurants and supermarkets. Sausages, kebabs and restaurant curries were among the most frequently mislabelled products. None of the products contained horse meat.
What do we not know?
How widespread the problem is. An FSA spokesman said the results were “not representative of the wider food industry”. The full picture remains a mystery because less than half of local authorities submitted meat sampling data to regulators last year. It is also so far unclear whether any meat sold as kosher, which means it is acceptable in Judaism, may have contained pork.

Word Watch

FSA
The Food Standards Agency, a government body responsible for protecting public health by monitoring the UK’s food.
Horse meat
In 2013, it was discovered that beef products — including burgers and microwave lasagnes — containing horse meat were being sold across Europe. The crisis inspired a stricter food testing regime across Europe.
Clean-eating
The practice of eating simple, homemade food from natural ingredients. While this is often a healthy choice, some figures in the movement have been criticised for encouraging restrictive diets that forbid dairy, gluten, non-vegan or cooked foods.
Nielsen
From the global data company’s 2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey of 30,000 people.
Sawdust
In the 19th century, bakers put sawdust in food as it was more widely available than wheat and therefore cheaper.
Sand
Silicon dioxide, also known as sand, is used to stop some foods clumping together.
Life
Lolito died of natural causes aged 57. His death was unrelated to his diet.

Subjects

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