Track meat, poultry and seafood with the DNA tool
Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from, often back to the farm. But not all food items are so easily tracked, especially foods that may be aggregated from different meat sources before being placed in the store refrigerator. This is especially true for meat, poultry and seafood.
But a DNA-based solution could play a role in identifying in the future who would provide fully traceable meat to consumers, providing confidence in the meat supply chain.
“The core concept of any traceability or transparency initiative is that we need to know where our food comes from, and that’s becoming increasingly important,” says Ronan Loftus, Ph.D., chief business officer and co-founder of IdentiGen, a subsidiary of Merck. Animal health.
He points out that Merck Animal Health has acquired a number of technology companies, including Allflex Livestock Intelligence – which is one of the world’s largest animal identification, monitoring and tracking companies using ear tags and other technologies to track animals. “But once you move the animal into the meat processing plant, the ear tag is removed and is no longer a reliable identifier.”
As the animal moves into more complex food processing, it becomes more complicated to keep track of. “What IdentiGen uses through its DNA TraceBack platform is DNA, nature barcoding and data analysis to accurately and accurately trace beef, pork, seafood and poultry that are verifiable from fork to farm,” says Loftus. “We use it for the identification of livestock or meat products derived from it.”
Use DNA as an identifier
Loftus explains that for this system to work, it is necessary to capture the DNA of the animal, or its parents, at some point in the life of the product. This would technically happen at the beef processor, which tends to be a bottleneck.
The DNA, once collected and linked to the source via this ear tag or returned to the feedlot, becomes a long-term identifier for all animal products. “Once you break that carcass, it goes through multiple streams, but all of those pieces carry their DNA with them. We can capture DNA anytime, whether it’s in burger patties or a cooked product, and the connect to the source.”, explains Loftus.
He notes, however, that the processing plant – while a logical place to capture DNA information – is also a choke point in the system.
Processors are too busy. Longer term, he sees an opportunity to capture this information when the animal is born, and then you would have the ability to link the information to that animal’s entire life as part of the process.
For now, the processing plant is the most logical place. IdentiGen’s customers are often back-shop and restaurant shoppers. They want to follow the product, and the processor is a logical source in the United States. Loftus adds that in Europe there is growing interest in linking animal information to DNA much earlier.
Although beef is a logical use, Loftus notes that IdentiGen also works with pigs. “We were capturing DNA from the sow frequently, and we were clearly doing it at the farm level,” he says. “Then all products from his piglets can be traced back through the production system to the farm of origin.”
He notes that the efficiency of the pig system is to efficiently track more animals from a single DNA source. “It’s a more efficient way to achieve that goal,” he says.
Tell the story of the farm
Currently, the processed meat is matched to the processor, and the product can be traced back to that point. But Loftus says there’s a greater possibility of linking that information back to the farm.
“I think the consumer wants to know about these producers and understand their stories: the high animal welfare used in their production systems and how they are sustainably sourced,” he says.
As retailers strive to engage with these enduring stories, they need more accurate information. Loftus explains that it is these buyers who foot the bill for IdentiGen. The company holds the information for the retailer or meat processor to provide the necessary details.
To learn more, visit identigen.com.