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USDA Doing More “Species Testing” on Imported Beef

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food safety unit is going to do more “species testing” on imported beef products from Iceland, Ireland, Poland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, but it will be doing more screenings than detailed DNA analyses, it says.

In addition, USDA will be conducting species testing on more imported ground beef from those lots that are being checked for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli pathogens known for causing serious illnesses and sometimes death.

USDA’s ramped-up testing is occurring as the targeted European counties continue to investigate how so much horsemeat has been passed off as beef in both fresh and processed products.

The Irish Food Safety Authority 90 days ago announced that DNA testing had shown that horsemeat was showing up as the more costly beef, and as the scandal spread across the continent, it’s been DNA testing that European officials have used in their attempt to get ahead of it.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued Notice 25-13 on April 1, instructing import inspection personnel to increase species sampling for imported beef products from the targeted counties.

Not all species testing, however, involves DNA testing. The current FSIS “Laboratory Guidebook” outlines what the experts call “immunological techniques,” one known as ELISA-TEK for cooked meat, and another for raw meat called the DTEK™ Immunostick Meat Species Screening Kit.

Those are the species tests used by FSIS.

The UK-based Eurofins, which has a Meat Species testing product using two independent DNA products, says immunological techniques “can only be used for screening purpose but care must be taken as there may be cross reactivity with non-target meats species or other artifacts.”

FSIS has confidence the “immunological techniques” it uses to test incoming beef products at the border.

“We are confident that the inspection system of ports of entry ensures the safety of products that come into our country every day,” FSIS spokeswoman Cathy Cochran said. “However, in response to recent events and consumer concerns, we are increasing species testing to enhance current safeguards and prevent fraudulently labeled products from entering the country.”

With the exception of some bad worldwide publicity for some well-known brands in the U.S., such as Nestle, Taco Bell, Bird’s Eye, Burger King and Ikea, Europe has contained the horsemeat scandal.

FSIS has paid careful attention to the European recalls and says it’s conducting its stepped up testing out of “an abundance of caution.” And the counties targeted are the ones with at the center of the horsemeat for beef fraud.

Officials also note that none of the mislabeled beef products recalled by European countries were intended for export to the U.S.

In Europe, the investigation is far from over. The Czech Republic’s veterinary authority tested horsemeat from Poland and it tested positive for phenylbutazone, also known as “bute,” in a lot of about 300 pounds of horsemeat that was properly labeled and being sold in Ostrava near the Polish border.

European officials have been testing for DNA and drug residues since the mislabeled beef problems were discovered in January. The “food fraud” investigation has led some to believe European organized crime is responsible and that criminals used intimidation to pass off horsemeat as beef at vulnerable points in the food chain.

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