Beef cow

The trial will run until the end of March

A new pilot project to investigate the viability of a DNA traceability system for the UK’s beef supply chain has been launched by AHDB, with the first samples taken this week.

The levy board has teamed up with industry to test “a robust and scientifically verified traceability platform” that could provide “greater protection and value both at home and for the growing export market”.

The move follows a series of controversies in recent years over the provenance of beef, ranging from the horsegate scandal in 2013 to the collapse of meat wholesaler Russell Hume in 2018, following a scandal over allegations of mislabelled meat.

Dubbed the UK National DNA Traceability Initiative, the AHDB-funded project is a collaboration with the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, British Meat Processors Association, the NFU and traceability specialist Identigen.

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The pilot runs until March and “offers the potential to identify and trace all British beef back to the animal ear tag and farm of origin with the precision and accuracy of science, even for complex supply chains such as ready meal production,” said AHDB.

If successful, the project would give consumers greater transparency around livestock farming and animal welfare as well as the ability to confirm the provenance of products served up in foodservice and manufacturing sectors in the UK, the levy board added.

“Under current legislation, clear country of origin labelling is required for beef and mince sold at retail. This is not the case for products destined for the food service or manufacturing sectors,” said AHDB international market development director Phil Hadley.

“This pilot project will address a number of gaps within the UK’s beef market. Key to having an economically sustainable livestock sector is the need to achieve carcass balance and to recover premia not just from the most expensive steaks and joints, but from the entire carcass.

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“This requires robust and effective traceability across all segments of meat production, not just in retail.”

The pilot would also create the potential to link finished retail or manufactured product back to the animal and farm in the small and medium processing sectors, AHDB said. The initiative will mirror initiatives underway in other key European markets.

“The opportunities that DNA traceability offers the UK meat industry are enormous for both the domestic and export markets,” said AIMS policy director Norman Bagley. “I fully expect to see this pilot project be successful and for the pig and sheep sectors to adopt its findings.”