A NOVEL paternity test for pigs has been introduced to determine if meat sold as Irish actually comes from Irish pigs.
The Irish Farmers’ Association and Bord Bia have set up the DNA-certified programme to expose misleading labelling.
Packaging on items such as rashers or bacon often suggest the meat comes from an Irish farm when in fact it has been imported.
The three-year project involved profiling thousands of boar samples and setting up a database with the DNA of every Irish boar serving sows in the State.
Bord Bia personnel will now take random samples of pigmeat from supermarkets, butchers and the food service industry to see if the samples match the database.
If they do not match up, the mislabelling will be exposed. Their findings will be issued every three months, or before that if a serious issue arises.
“The days of conning the consumer are gone,” said Tim Cullinan, chairman of the IFA’s pigs and pigmeat committee.
He said Irish pig producers were in Bord Bia’s quality assurance scheme, but some unscrupulous butchers and retailers were using this good name “as a way of selling produce on the back of Irish pig farmers”.
He said retailers could sell imported meat but must label it as such.
The committee’s executive secretary, Amii McKeever, said it was accepted that up to 90 per cent of pig and poultry meat in catering, food service and wholesale was imported.
“If you go into any supermarket there is an imported product there that is made to look Irish,” she said. Imported pigmeat was often given an Irish name or the packaging carried pictures of Irish scenery to suggest that the meat was local.
“We want to make sure that if a consumer is going into their local butcher, believing that they are supporting local jobs by buying Irish meat, that they’re not buying an imported product.”
IFA and Bord Bia devised the scheme with IdentiGen, a spin-off company from Trinity College’s institute of genetics.
IdentiGen’s managing director Ciarán Meghan said the project would introduce a whole new standard of integrity to the Irish pigmeat sector.
“Globally this is the first time that a national DNA database of all breeding stock has been established to provide unequivocal guarantees of product origin, potentially creating new opportunities to market Irish pork internationally,” he said.
Mr Meghan said some supermarkets already operated their own traceability systems for meat but the DNA of an entire breeding stock had not been analysed before.
He said it was “a very exciting” programme. “We have the opportunity to take the technology internationally as well and potentially create jobs.”
The costs of the scheme are being borne by farmers, AI stations, the IFA and Bord Bia.
Mr Cullinan said the State’s 400 pig producers had seen a drop in income of at least 20 per cent of their income in the past year because of the rising cost of feed.
“That was one of the main drivers behind this, to sustain an industry that employs 10,000 people and has a farm gate value of about €1 billion a year.
We exported close on half a billion euro worth of pigmeat last year.”
Earlier this week it emerged that the Food Safety Authority was setting up a unit to tackle fraud in the food industry.
It will tackle issues such as the sale of counterfeit food and drinks and the substitution of cheaper species of fish for cod.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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