JOHANNESBURG Worried about horse meat in your beef? Try water buffalo, donkey and goat.
South African food scientists said they have found all three in mislabeled foods including beef burgers, ground beef and sausages.
A study published by three professors at Stellenbosch University found that 68 percent of 139 samples contained species not declared in the product label, with the highest incidence in sausages, burger patties and deli meats.
The study found soya and gluten were not labeled in 28 percent of products tested, it found undeclared pork in 37 percent and chicken in 23 percent.
"This study confirms that the mislabeling of processed meats is commonplace in South Africa and not only violates food labeling regulations but also poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts," co-author Professor Louwrens C. Hoffman said Tuesday.
He said tests the past two weeks on hundreds of samples of imported meat have found no horse meat.
The study, published in the latest edition of the European journal Food Control, tested compliance with new labeling laws introduced in South Africa nearly a year ago. Hoffman said it had taken years to get the legislation passed because of opposition from producers and "we are picking up the feeling that the industry is not acting on the new legislation."
He added: "We've picked up the vibe that people take all kinds of offcuts and mince it to make a sausage."
The chief executive officer of South Africa's Red Meat Producers' Association, Gerhard Schutte, called for the culprits to be prosecuted, complaining "they are giving our products a bad name."
South Africa has some of the choicest beef, lamb, pork and chicken in the world, but a complicated chain from the farm gate means products could be contaminated with other products from the abattoir to meat packers and also in the many meats imported into the country.
Hoffman said his samples for the study all were of local meat acquired from supermarkets and butchers. He said most large supermarkets hold their suppliers accountable, doing in house tests and sending samples to Stellenbosch University for verification.
He said it would not cost much for the meat industry to comply with South African labeling laws.
"It's all about people having the right to know" what they are eating, he said. "There's nothing wrong with eating donkey if you like donkey, but if you don't, you have the right to know" it is in your burger pattie or sausage.
The revelation comes a day after Swedish furniture giant Ikea was drawn into Europe's widening food labeling scandal.
Authorities said they had detected horse meat in Ikea's frozen meatballs labeled as beef and pork and sold in 13 countries across the continent.
The horse meat scandal began in Ireland in mid-January after the country's first DNA tests on beef products. Horse was discovered in processed meals sold under household brands and packaged as beef.