University of Manchester battles meat fraud

A research team at the University of Manchester has used ‘metabolic fingerprints’ to detect whether or not beef mince has been contaminated with pork. 

According to the institute, mixing beef mince with pork has become regular practice. This not only leads to moral concerns, as consumers don’t always know what they are purchasing, but can also lead to ethical issues as certain religions don’t eat pork but will consume beef.

The University of Manchester said that the current method of choice for spotting deceit is DNA profiling – and this is the technique that detected horsemeat labelled as beef mince. However, the issue with this practice is that it can only detect the presence of another meat by providing a yes or no answer, as well as being time-consuming and expensive.

Instead of following this method, the Manchester team, led by Professor Roy Goodacre, checked for metabolites – chemical fingerprints of cellular processes. This technique offers direct information on the precise extent of contamination.

The university combined different amounts of pork and beef mince to be analysed for metabolites. A method of identifying the two different types of meat was discovered by using robust statistical analyses. Additionally, the group detected metabolites that correlated to the percentage of fat and therefore are able to compare this to what was declared on the labelling.

“This research is promising, as it could lead to easier, quicker, cheaper ways of analysing meat qualities,” explained researcher Dr Drupad K Trivedi.

“We are currently investigating how different diets fed to animals and methods of meat preparation affect the metabolites and primary metabolites and primary metabolic pathways. This further research will help us confidently eliminate factors that may affect metabolic signature of a meat species.”

The research team hopes that this investigation will lead to the development of a portable dipstick-type device used to detect pork doping.

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