A DNA technique developed by researchers for use with meats could be used by processors as a certification method for their supplies.
New Zealand based AgResearch said it developed the DNA traceability method to help New Zealand processors sell its top quality meat with guaranteed origin certified labelling.
The method could allow them to charge a "considerable premium" for their meat, say AgResearch scientists.
Current traceability techniques that don't involve DNA use visual identifiers, such as tags, that are removed at slaughter when carcasses are dismantled into prime cuts or pre-packaged individual cuts.
Even in systems that are designed specifically to track product derived from individual animals, up to 10 per cent may still be mislabelledsays Grant Shackell, one of the researchers involved in developing the traceability system.
"This problem increases several-fold in the manufacture of ground meat. DNA can prove identity for meat traceability, brand protection, fraud detection and non-label species contamination,"Shackell stated in releasing the results of the research at he Horizons in Livestock Sciences conferencethat started today in Australia.
Helen Mathias, who is presenting the research undertaken in collaboration with Shackell and Ken Dodds,will outline the new method, which allows testers to determine precisely which animals they originatefrom by testing meat products made from more than one animal, such as patties.
Under the method DNA samples are collected from all of the animals contributing to each batch of meat patties. DNA is extracted from each sample and profiled using microsatellites. When confirmation of the batch of origin is required, sub samples from a test patty are dismantled into individual meat fibres.
The DNA is then extracted from several of those fibres and profiled using the same microsatellites.The DNA profiles from the patty samples are then compared with DNA profiles from all possible batches of the contributing animals.
By matching some of the DNA profiles from the patty to the DNA profiles of a subset of the contributing animals, the batch of origin is established.
"Some DNA traceability systems for individual meat cuts currently exist but tracing compound products that contain meat from more than one animal has up until now been difficult,"Mathias stated.
Shackell says the use of DNA traceability tools will be routine management practice on the farm of the future.
"Consumers and governmental regulatory regimes will increasingly demand better food safety, improved animal welfare and information regarding the authenticity of foodstuffs derived fromanimals," he stated. "DNA traceability technology allows us to comply with these demands."
He added that New Zealand meat is already well placed at the top end of the market. DNA traceability techniqueswould give processors an opportunity to maintain their position and charge a premium for theirproducts.
"Branding is particularly important for New Zealand," he stated. "In most offshore markets we already have a strong brand presence as a supplier of premium meat products. Through DNA traceability we can back this up with real information that will be compelling for buyers the worldover."
Last year New Zealand exported about €2.4bn worth of meat and meat products, according to thecountry's trade ministry. New Zealand is the world's largest exporter of sheep meat, second largest exporter of wool and aboutthe fourth or fifth largest beef exporter.