Donkey-Burgers Anyone? South African Study Reveals Widespread Mislabeling Of Meat Products

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By Palash R. Ghosh | February 27, 2013 3:32 AM EST

While Western Europe reels from revelations that certain commercial meat products contain horsemeat, a study by a university in South Africa indicate widespread fraud in the labeling of its own country’s meat products.

Scientists at Stellenbosch University reported that in more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the meat products they examined, they found traces of donkey, goat, soya bean, water buffalo and unknown plant matter in a survey of 139 minced meats, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meats collected from butcheries and retail stores.

In addition, pork and chicken meat were widely substituted in meat products that were not supposed to contain them, the study noted.

The foreign elements were not labeled on the products packages, according to the study published in the international Food Control journal.

“Our study confirms that the mislabeling of processed meats is commonplace in South Africa and not only violates food labeling regulations, but also poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts,” said Professor Louw Hoffman of the Department of Animal Sciences at Stellenbosch.

Indeed, Muslims, Jews and Hindus are forbidden by custom to consume pork products of any kind.

Hoffman added that: “Unconventional species such as donkey, goat and water buffalo were also discovered in a number of products.”

Studies of fish products in South Africa have also uncovered significant mislabeling and fraud.

“Our findings raise significant concern on the functioning of the meat supply chain in South Africa,” Hoffman stated. “Even though we have local regulations that protect consumers from being sold falsely described or inferior foodstuffs, we need these measures to be appropriately enforced.”

Hoffman’s colleague and study co-author Dr. Donna-Maree Cawthorn warned that the country’s meat industry needs to immediately address these issues.

“Clearly, our consumers cannot generally accept that the meat products they buy are correctly labeled,” she said.

“The meat industry’s failure to provide vital information on products may not only decrease consumer confidence in their organizations, but also in the meat industry as a whole… I do not believe that the current penalties issued for non-compliance are sufficient to deter fraudulent practices.”

 According to a study by Prof. Hettie Schonfeldt at the University of Pretoria, South Africans are actually consuming less red meat and more white meat, in line with global trends, largely due to concerns over health and cost.

The average South African consumed about 40 kg of white meat in 2011, versus about 20 kg of red meat.

Donkey meat is also being sold illegally in Kenya.

BBC correspondent Will Ross in Kenya noted that local police are tracking down gangs that are selling donkey meat to butchers, who later sell them to the public as beef or chicken.

A donkey owner named Raban Mutahi told BBC his livestock are being stolen by fraudulent meat sellers.

"Eventually we found the donkey tied somewhere and some men were there with their knives," he said.

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