Windhoek — Contaminated meat products from South Africa could potentially spell disaster for the local meat industry if Namibia's meat loving consumers decide they would rather eat poultry or fish to avoid eating donkey meat incorrectly labelled as beef.
A recent study by scientists from Stellenbosch University in South Africa discovered traces of donkey, goat and water buffalo in up to 68 percent of 139 samples of minced meat, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meat that were tested. The study also found plant ingredients that were not declared on the products' packaging labels. The meat scandal originally started in Europe and has now spread to Asia and other parts of the world.
An imported lasagne brand was pulled from the shelves in Hong Kong, while Czech authorities recently ordered similar action on frozen meals mislabelled as beef. "I am aware of some people in Namibia who use soya and other products to make their sausage heavier and as a result more expensive," commented local butcher Manna Hansen of Palms Butchery in Khomasdal. Hansen added that he is not aware of any butcher in the country that has ever mislabelled any meat products.
But another butcher in Windhoek's Klein Windhoek suburb, who preferred anonymity, said he is aware of some people who mix different kinds of meat in sausages and then sell these as 100 percent beef sausage. Despite requests by consumers to scientists who exposed the meat scandal to name and shame the suppliers, retailers and butchers whose products were tested, no such information has been forthcoming.
"The focus of our research was not to name and shame, but rather to force corrective action," said Prof Louw Hoffman, co-author of the shocking study that revealed the mislabelling of processed meat products. "At the time of the study, the practice of incorrect labelling was widespread. Now retailers and butchers have started labelling correctly and are even sending meat samples for verification," added Prof Hoffman.
Meanwhile, South Africa's Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies tasked that country's National Consumer Commission (NCC) to further investigate the matter. The NCC said on Thursday last week that the probe could include pulling meat off shop shelves for random testing. Local supermarket chain, Pick 'n Pay, last week told New Era that it has rigorous internal procedures that ensure the product contents and ingredients are accurately reflected on the packaging.
"While some of our stores stock game products like ostrich, each is marked clearly on the packaging and we do not stock any zebra or donkey nor horsemeat products," commented Roux-che Locke, group manager for external relations at Ohlthaver and List, the parent company of Pick 'n Pay.
Also, according to the DNA tests, most of South Africa's biltong has little to do with the ingredients on the label. Game biltong, which is popular with the health conscious, since it is considered lean and free-range, is the most mislabelled, according to a study by scientists from the University of the Western Cape.
"The finding was that there is a major substitution of species in the market," said researcher Maria Eugenia D'Amato. Of the 146 samples tested by the University of the Western Cape over 100 contained undeclared meat species. All the samples marked beef were correctly labelled, but for the most badly labelled 92 percent of packets of 'kudu biltong' contained different species such as horse, giraffe, pork, beef and even kangaroo.
Researchers were concerned that one sample labelled zebra, contained meat from a mountain zebra, a species threatened with extinction. "Some of the substitutions are intentional, because kangaroo does not occur in South Africa and it must have been imported," D'Amato added.