South Africa Starts Probe Into Mislabeled Water Buffalo Meat

South Africa’s health department has started an investigation into how unlabeled donkey, goat and water buffalo meat was found in supermarket products.

The probe began last month after the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency found traces of horse DNA in beef burgers and lasagnes being sold by British retailers including Tesco Plc, Maja Popo, a spokesman for the state national health department, said by phone from Pretoria.

“Officials will investigate abattoirs and meat processors and not retailers,” he said.

About 68 percent of 139 samples of meat taken from South African supermarkets and butcheries in the middle of last year contained unlabeled traces of donkey, goat or water buffalo, a study by the University of Stellenbosch found this week. Louw Hoffman, one of the authors of the study, declined to name the supermarkets involved yesterday.

The report comes as “a timely wake-up call that we cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to compliance with food-labeling standards,” said Mateboho Kawara, communications director of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, in e-mailed comments.

The group “would caution against tarnishing the reputations of several thousand meat suppliers on the basis of the report,” Kawara said, because “very little amounts” of unlabeled meat “is required to be present in order to show a positive result.”

Horse Contamination

Food retailers in the U.K., Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Germany pulled frozen meat products from shelves and France has threatened sanctions for negligence and fraud since the horse-contamination scandal began last month.

Ikea Group, the world’s biggest furniture retailer, halted the sale of meatballs in more than 21 countries in Europe and Asia on concern over possible horse-meat contamination.

Shoprite Holdings Ltd., Africa’s largest food retailer, said meat sold in its butcheries are subjected to DNA testing on a regular basis. It will penalize “in the strongest terms” any suppliers implicated in the study, Chief Executive Officer Whitey Basson said yesterday.

Shoprite fell for a second day, closing 2 percent lower at 175.78 rand by 5 p.m. in Johannesburg. The shares are down about 14 percent this year. Woolworths Holdings Ltd., a food and clothing retailer, declined 3.1 percent.

Retailer shares are probably not falling because of the study as “they have not yet been named and shamed,” said Michael McLeod, an analyst at Avior Research, in a phone interview from Johannesburg today. “It’s quite possible the food producers will be more affected than the retailers.”

Woolworths and Pick n Pay Holdings Ltd., South Africa’s second-largest grocer, conduct random spot DNA checks on their meat products, both companies said yesterday.

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