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Contains no beef? - BgVV is on the trail of hidden food ingredients

12/2001, 02.04.2001

Genetic engineering analytical method for meat products developed at the Federal Institute

Any consumer who purchases pork salami does not initially expect it to contain any beef. That may, however, be the case even if the packaging does not contain any corresponding reference. According to food law provisions all parts of other types of animal must only be indicated when they are present in the product on a "significant" scale. Only when the declaration on the packaging includes the wording "contains no beef", does it not actually contain any beef components.

Anyone wishing to avoid beef will not have an easy job when shopping also because not all manufacturers comply with these provisions. Not least because of the BSE crisis, safer and rapid measures for the detection of "beef" in meat products are required. BgVV has developed a highly sensitive quantative test method which is made available to food control and should guarantee greater consumer protection against misleading practices.

Based on the determination of beef-specific genetic substance (DNA) in mixed meat products and in feeds, this method can reliably identify even the smallest amounts of beef components. The method is based on the so-called polymerase chain reaction. Processing steps like fermentation, curing, smoking, cooking, roasting or grinding do not falsify the result. The new test method is far more sensitive than the customary ELISA test which is based on the immunological detection of beef protein. These traditional test methods only work when the beef admixture in the product is more than 1%. If the new test methods provide a positive test result, then it must be examined in the second stage whether in fact beef was used or for instance (depending on the declaration) permitted admixtures of milk protein. Up to now, only immunological methods were available.

The new method will soon be tested by a working group at BgVV which is involved in developing new methods for the determination of animal and plant species in foods in an inter-laboratory test. The working group consists of experts from food control authorities, university research, BgVV and private institutions. After the successful conclusion of the inter-laboratory test, steps will be taken to have the test integrated into the official method collection pursuant to §35 of the Foods and Other Commodities Act (LLMG). A test kit will soon be available commercially.

In future, in conjunction with a European research project co-ordinated by the Institute and a national working group, further PCR test methods will be developed within BgVV for the identification of animal and also plant species. The correct and complete declaration of ingredients and components of foods protects the consumer not only against misleading practices but also serves the purposes of consumer health protection. It will help, for instance, people with allergies to avoid critical ingredients like peanuts.

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