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30 Years of Scientific Innovation >> Examples of our Scientific Innovations >> Testing for Traceability of Meat From Farm to Fork Down to Individual Animals

Testing for Traceability of Meat From Farm to Fork Down to Individual Animals

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Clarity and confidence for the food chain

Food safety crises, from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow disease”), to the European horsemeat scandal, have rocked the food industry and driven consumers to demand safer food products and reliable information about sources and production processes. Eurofins’ innovative testing approaches have helped provide true “farm-to fork” traceability and much-needed confidence to the sector.

BSE was first identified in cattle in 1986 and, unfortunately, necessitated the slaughter of over four million animals in the UK alone. In 1996, the disease was acknowledged to have jumped the species barrier to humans, via the consumption of infected beef and beef products. The first cases of a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), were registered and over 220 people are believed to have succumbed to the disease in Western Europe.

In addition to these human and animal fatalities, the global news headlines resulting from the BSE scandal and other food safety crises cause pressure across the supply chain and highlight the very real importance of being able to reliably trace the origin of meat products.

The technology to achieve this lagged behind until, in 2001, Eurofins developed its innovative patented method, Eurofins TAG. For the very first time, genetic fingerprints were used for the precise identification of cattle in the food industry that had been tested free of BSE with each individual animal matched to one genetic profile. Simple to administer, reference samples were taken from animals before they reached the slaughter house, and the information was stored in a database and compared with control samples taken post-slaughter. Large-scale adoptions of the technology for DNA traceability projects included the Pays de la Loire region of Western France.

Technologies have continued to evolve, and Eurofins is still leading the way in rapidly reacting in times of crisis. One such cutting-edge technology – Animal ID DNA Chips – was quickly developed and launched in the wake of the horsemeat crisis in 2013. Consumers, retailers and producers were demanding the verification of product composition, proof of its compliance with relevant regulations, and proof that it was entirely consistent with the claims on the label.

Eurofins recognised that existing analytical methods to detect single species were no longer sufficient to meet these requirements; Animal ID DNA allows the precise simultaneous identification of 21 specific animal species in food products, including pig, chicken, rabbit, cat, sheep and goat, as well as horse.

The science behind

The Animal ID DNA chip technology uses mitochondrial DNA targets to enable the identification of 21 animal species in food and feed through a single test. Fully-accredited, it makes specific and cost-effective detection of a large panel of species possible for the first time.

Eurofins-TAG is based on the multiplex analysis of a set of 11 microsatellite markers recommended by ISAG (International Society for Animal Genetics). A unique genetic fingerprint is obtained for each animal and can be used for traceability studies of BSE tested animals of known origin or paternity testing.