DNA-based testing will help fight fraud in beef export payments

July 2, 2002

Brussels, 01 July 2002

The Commission is to introduce new DNA-based gender tests for cattle to combat fraudulent claims for export refunds. The beef trade receives several million euros of EU export refunds, and the sums granted for the export of beef from male cattle are substantially higher than for meat from female animals(1). Ensuring a proper declaration of gender of the beef at the point of export is therefore essential. Under new EU legislation, which will enter into force today(2), a new technique developed by the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) will be introduced. The JRC carried out a feasibility study on current analytical methods in use. The results showed that the most promising technique is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with subsequent gel electrophoresis, as it best fulfils the requirements for rapid and accurate sexing of meat and showed reliability for regular use.

EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "This method will be a powerful weapon in our fight against fraudulent claims for EU subsidies. By pooling together expertise at EU level, cutting-hedge EU research helps develop new legislative tools to protect consumers, honest entrepreneurs and the European taxpayer."

This subsidy difference requires strict legislation to ensure the correct gender declaration of beef at EU level. Measures such as intervention buying and export refunds have been introduced to strengthen the market position of meat producers(3). Physical control on export consignments by the Customs offices is carried out in various ways, for instance by checking whether individual meat cuts that are randomly sampled from the consignment are individually wrapped or not. Moreover, the content of an entire carton is minced and homogenised and this sample is then subject to a lean meat content determination. However, a fast and reliable analytical technique is preferred when the gender of meat needs to be determined unambiguously.

Analytical methods currently being applied were therefore assessed during proficiency testing organised by the Commission, with the aim of amending existing regulations with a list of minimal technical requirements to be fulfilled by all EU laboratories engaged in this field (customs labs, ministries, etc).

The Commission evaluated the current available methods and proposed the most promising technique. Based on a preliminary study, it was suggested that PCR-electrophoresis best fulfils the requirements for rapid and accurate sexing of meat. 430 "blind samples" were distributed to 8 customs laboratories and a feasibility study was carried out. The results showed that the selected method exhibited the required reliability for routine use. This has now been included into EU Regulation 765/2002 and will enter into force on 1 July 2002. In fact, most customs offices involved in this field have recently introduced this methodology in their laboratories.

Customs laboratories from the main beef exporting countries, including the Commission as co-ordinator, participated in this study. Each laboratory received 50 frozen samples; 46-48 of these were beef samples and 2-4 consisted of ostrich meat, which served as a negative control in this study. The gender of each sample had to be determined with the respective in-house methods of the laboratories (methodology PCR gel electrophoresis). The report submitted had to include a thorough documentation of all steps undertaken in the analyses, from sub-sampling and analysis, to the interpretation of results.

List of participants in the project :

State laboratory Abbotstown, Dublin, Ireland

Zolltechnische Prüf- u. Lehranstalt Hamburg, Germany

LGC Teddington, U.K.

Douane Laboratorium Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Laboratoire des Douanes de Paris, France

Biomedisch Onderzoeksinstituut, LUC Diepenbeek, Belgium

Laboratorium der Douane en Accijnzen, Leuven, Belgium

European Commission, Joint Research Centre

For further information, please visit

http://www.irmm.jrc.be/

http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int/

(1) The reason behind is that bulls and steers rearing is a specific farming activity, while cows, in general, are used for milk production. Therefore their meat is more of a "by-product". In addition, in economic terms the value of cow meat is substantially lower than the one of male cattle.

(2) EU Regulation 765/2002

(3) Commission regulations 1964/82 and 562/2000"

DN: IP/02/963 Date: 01/07/2002

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