Supermarkets named in meat mislabelling respond

Popular supermarkets including Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Woolworths, Spar and Fruit & Veg have responded to a City Press report that identified them as stocking incorrectly labelled meat products, largely blaming cross-contamination.

The newspaper reports that the retailers have largely suggested that the findings could be blamed on cross-contamination, where one type of meat was transferred to another on chopping boards, saws, hands and utensils.

Woolworths said in statement: “From all the Woolworths products tested, we’re told that only our French polony contained trace chicken DNA that was not labelled. We are looking into this. We believe that the traces of chicken DNA in our French polony are due to cross contact during production and not due to deliberate adulteration.”

“Even with thorough cleaning, it may be possible to find minute traces of chicken DNA since the polony is processed in the same factory that uses chicken as an ingredient.”

The company said it remained vigilant and would continue to monitor its processes closely.

Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson said there was not “intentional adulteration to mislead consumers”.

Of 32 Shoprite and Checkers products tested, 20 were wrongly labelled. Basson said some of the findings did not make sense as no butcher in his “right mind would intentionally add a small percentage of lamb, which costs more per kilogram, to a pure beef sausage, which is cheaper.”

PicknPay food director Peter Arnold said the quantities of undeclared animal products found in the Stellenbosch study were “minute”.

He said there was an international threshold that meat could contain one percent of an undeclared product to allow for cross-contamination.

Spar group merchandise executive Mike Prentice said labelling needed to be “tightened up” and the industry as a whole needed to “jack itself up”.

Investigation underway

Trade and industry department spokesperson Sidwell Medupe said an investigation into meat labelling was underway.

Democratic Alliance MP Annette Steyn said that in light of the meat label study, a food agency should be established which would inspect meat and other products and regulate and enforce certain codes of practice.

She said during a meeting last month between the portfolio committes of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, health and trade and industry, an agreement “in principle” was reached to form such a food agency.

Steyn said in a statement that she would follow up what was happening in terms of implementing the agreement.

“The mislabelling of products not only has possible health implications, but it has the potential to undermine the reputation of South African exports and cost our economy jobs,” she said.

A University of Stellenbosch study found that nearly 60% of 139 products tested contained ingredients which were not listed on their labels, including donkey, water buffalo, goat and pork.

Prof Louw Hoffman, the scientist behind the study, said the study had proved that the mislabelling of processed meats was “commonplace in South Africa.

“(The mislabelling) not only violates food-labelling regulations, but poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts,” he told The City Press.

The study examined meat products sourced from shops across Gauteng, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Additional Reading:

City Press:We expose the… meat-label scandal

Here they are: more than 80 meat products that contain, among others, donkey and water buffalo meat. City Press can today expose South Africa’s food-label lie as we publish the results of a landmark scientific study by Stellenbosch University….

City Press: Meat scandal: SA’s food laws have teeth, but lack bite

Herman Blignaut, an attorney with copyright experts Spoor & Fisher, said manufacturers and retailers that mislabelled meat products fell foul of several laws, but enforcing and policing them was hampered by a lack of manpower and the high cost of scientific testing….

Worst cases of mislabelling by CityPress