SU’s research headlines gives rise to new meat labelling regulations

New meat labelling regulations recently published (October 25, 2013) in the Government Gazette on the labelling of imported meat products in particular, arose from the research by meat experts at Stellenbosch University (SU) who brought the illegal practices of suppliers of processed meat to light earlier this year.

According to the new regulations promulgated by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), specific information must be present on the labels of all preserved, processed, dried and packaged meat products as of April 25, 2014.

This includes among other things the product’s country of origin, weight, all ingredients present, as well as a description in simple language of the animal type the product was made of.

This came about after the research conducted by Dr Donna-Maréé Cawthorn and Prof Louw Hoffman (pictured) of the Department of Animal Sciences at Stellenbosch University, in conjunction with Dr Harris Steinman of the Food & Allergy Consulting & Testing Services (FACTS) in Milnerton, received wide media coverage when it was published in the international journal Food Control in February.

They found that South African consumers were sometimes being misled about the ingredients to be found in processed meat products such as sausages, deli meats and hamburger patties. In 68% of the 139 products tested, the researchers found ingredients that were not declared on the food labels.

Donkey, goat and water buffalo were found in some of the minced meats, hamburger patties, sausages and dried meats that were tested. In some cases even plant material was detected.

Not only did this indicate the violation of existing food labelling regulations, but posed economic, religious, ethical and health impacts. The study in Food Control was followed by similar research by the University of the Western Cape which focused on the origin of South African biltong.

After the results of these studies were made public, a Commission of Inquiry was appointed.

According to the DTI the new regulations were put in place to prevent a similar scandal. The regulations were not only based on the evidence of the joint report compiled by the Departments of Trade and Industry, Health, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries after the scandal, but consumer feedback was also taken into account.

Prof Hoffman is glad that his research could lead to a practical result. “Now one can only hope that suppliers of processed products will comply with regulations and that it will be enforced,” he says.

Source: Stellenbosch University