DNA testing reveals horse meat in two products bought in US


Horse DNA was detected in two purchased meat samples tested as part of a study in California.
Horse DNA was detected in two purchased meat samples tested as part of a study in California. [file image]
Horse meat has been detected in two of 48 samples of ground meat products purchased from retailers in California.

It is illegal for horse meat to enter the food chain in the United States.

The presence of horse meat in the two samples was detected during a study undertaken by researchers in the Food Science Program at California’s Chapman University.

The discovery comes after the 2013 horse-meat scandal in Europe, which saw a range of ready-made meals pulled from supermarket freezers across the continent after beef was found to have been contaminated with horse meat.

The resulting international investigation revealed the complexities of the food chain and its vulnerability to rogue traders.

Researchers at Chapman University have just published two separate studies exploring meat mislabeling in consumer products. One focused on identification of the species found in ground meat products and the other investigated game meat species labeling.

Both studies examined products sold in the US commercial market; and both identified species mislabeling.

In the study on identification of species found in ground meat products, 48 samples were purchased from five online specialty meat distributors and four retail outlets (three supermarkets and one butcher) in Orange County, California. The samples represented 15 different meat types.

They were tested for the presence of beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork and horse using a combination of DNA barcoding and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Thirty-eight of them were found to have been labeled correctly.

However, 10 were found to have been mislabeled. Of these, nine were found to contain additional meat species and one sample was mislabeled in its entirety. Horse meat was detected in two of the samples.

One of the samples containing horse was labeled as ground bison and the other as ground lamb meat.

Both had been purchased from two different online specialty meat distributors.

The sample labeled as ground bison had a top match for American elk, but analysis also revealed the presence of beef, pork, and horse.

The sample labeled as ground lamb was identified as lamb/sheep, but analysis also revealed the presence of pork and horse.

The sample labeled as lamb listed the US as its country of origin, while the sample labeled as bison listed Canada as its country of origin.

“Although extensive meat species testing has been carried out in Europe in light of the 2013 horse-meat scandal, there has been limited research carried out on this topic in the United States,” noted Rosalee Hellberg, an assistant professor at Chapman University and a co-author on both studies.

“To our knowledge, the most recent US meat survey was published in 1995.”

The study speculates that the presence of multiple species commonly found in ground meats suggests the possibility of cross-contamination at the processing facility.

Unintentional mislabeling may occur when several species are ground on the same manufacturing equipment, without proper cleaning in between samples, the authors said.

Another trend observed in the study indicated the possibility of lower-cost species being intentionally mixed in with higher-cost species for economic gain.

Overall, mislabeling was found to be most common in products purchased from online specialty meat distributors (versus supermarkets), which showed a 35 percent rate of mislabeling and included products labeled as black bear and yak burgers.

The second study, focusing on game meat species labeling, used a total of 54 game meat products collected from online retail sources in the United States. Of these 54 samples, a total of 22 different types of game meat were represented based on the product label. Like the previous study, the samples were tested using DNA barcoding.

The results showed 10 products to be potentially mislabeled. Two products labeled as bison and one labeled as yak were identified as domestic cattle. Other mislabeling included a product labeled as black bear that was identified as American beaver, and a product labeled as pheasant that was identified as helmeted guineafowl.

Additionally, there were also five products identified as a near threatened (bison) or threatened (lion) species and these were all determined to be correctly labeled and legally sold.

Game meats represent an important specialty market in the US with an estimate value of $US39 billion. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), game meats are defined as exotic meats, animals and birds, which are not in the Meat and Poultry Act.

Game meats produced in the US are regulated by the Department of Agriculture, while game meats imported into the US are regulated by the FDA.

Both studies were published in the journal Food Control.

Charles A. Quinto, Rebecca Tinoco, Rosalee S. Hellberg.
DNA barcoding reveals mislabeling of game meat species on the U.S. commercial market. Food Control, 2016; 59: 386 DOI:10.1016/j.foodcont.2015.05.043

Dawn E. Kane, Rosalee S. Hellberg.
Identification of species in ground meat products sold on the U.S. commercial market using DNA-based methods. Food Control, 2016; 59: 158 DOI:10.1016/j.foodcont.2015.05.020



9 thoughts on “DNA testing reveals horse meat in two products bought in US

  • August 24, 2015 at 7:33 am

    Yet again, Horsetalk.nz has provided the most comprehensive coverage of an issue related to equine welfare. Thank you, Horsetalk! Outstanding work!

    • August 25, 2015 at 4:07 am

      It would most certainly have been productive to name the brands that contained meat other than what it was labeled to contain. I do not eat meat, but for those who do, it would be nice to let them know which products were mislabeled.

  • August 25, 2015 at 1:02 am

    It would be helpful to know the names of the two companies?

    • August 25, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Well, YES!!! NAMES of companies and PRODUCTS!!! PLEASE

  • August 27, 2015 at 10:58 am

    This is a Perfect example of how manipulative and deceptive horse slaughter is. Is it time to press the Cattle industry by not purchasing beef? They have allowed this to happen by not standing against it. This is illegal dangerous meat.

  • August 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Thats interesting. In the US its illegal to sell game meat like elk. You would think it would be cheaper and easier to use farmed bison, like the label said.

  • July 5, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Given these disturbing findings, maybe we should be testing for rodent and human DNA as well. Unscrupulous sellers don’t seem to care as long as they’re making money.

  • July 10, 2016 at 3:56 am

    There is NO difference of which animal flesh is from. All animals suffer the same. Cow, dog, chicken, pig, duck, turkey HORSE, goat, lamb, fish, etc. If you have no problem eating the flesh of another sentient being, then you’re a hypocrite if you are against eating horse meat. Meat is meat, flesh is flesh. Hell, humans are meat if you think about it. Just like people are against the Yulin dog festival while their stuffing the flesh of a chicken in their mouth, you’re a hypocrite, speciesist fool.

    • March 2, 2020 at 10:38 am

      The fajitas we’ve been getting around here almost all have a strange flavor- could they be horse meat???
      They have a liver flavor – …are they not draining the blood right…
      Others taste like normal beef…


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