S. African Grocers Blame Shared Equipment Use for Stray Meat

Shoprite Holdings Ltd., Africa’s biggest retailer, said that unlabeled DNA from goats and other animals found in grocery meat products in the country is the result of shared equipment and utensils at processing plants.

The largest portion of mislabeling occurred due to “accidental cross contamination,” Shoprite Chief Executive Officer Whitey Basson said in an e-mail to Johannesburg-based newspaper City Press on April 12. The company sent the statement to Bloomberg News today.

“The screening method did not test for the quantity of undeclared meat found in affected products, only whether it was present or absent,” Basson said in the statement.

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.

“The Stellenbosch study tells us what we already know, that DNA testing can reveal minute traces of genetic material in a product,” Tamra Veley, a spokeswoman for Pick n Pay Holdings Ltd., South Africa’s second-largest grocer, said by phone from Cape Town. “The internationally recognized threshold is 1 percent. We have commissioned 700 independent scientific tests on this basis and all have proved negative.”

It isn’t unusual for DNA of other species to be found in small quantities in meat products because of contact among animals, Ronel Burger, head of the Consumer Goods Council’s food safety initiative, said in an e-mailed statement. There is no threshold, such as in the European Union and U.K., for a tolerable level of unlabeled DNA in South Africa, she said.

In an e-mail dated April 5 and addressed to Shoprite, Donna Cawthorn, a researcher at Stellenbosch University, said that “undeclared species detected were due to cross-contamination and this was stressed in the publication” of the study.