Philippines: Step up forensics in routine meat inspection

07-12-2021 | | |
DNA sequencing could step up the meat identification process in the Philippines. - Photo: Shutterstock
DNA sequencing could step up the meat identification process in the Philippines. - Photo: Shutterstock

The Philippines government should consider the use of forensics in routine meat inspections to increase the safety of meat and meat products, including pork.

That was a recommendation that was recently given by scientists from the University of the Philippines, based in the country’s capital Manila. In a recent study published in the journalForensic Science International, the scientists explored the potential application of animal forensics in routine meat inspections in the Philippines. Currently, the application of DNA barcoding in meat species identification of raw meat and meat-derived products is not well explored in the Philippines.

Meat inspection based on animal forensics

The team studied animal forensics in the form of DNA barcoding, a molecular method that utilises DNA sequences or “barcodes,” to identify organisms rapidly and accurately. Conventional DNA barcoding has been shown to accurately identify numerous species that provide meat for human consumption. However, in their study, they found that, previously, conventional DNA barcoding could not distinguish meat in processed food products with degraded DNA and those with more than one animal source.

In their study, the research team found that failed amplification of the larger DNA barcode in the conventional method can be overcome by using DNA mini-barcode primer sets that successfully amplifies a smaller region of the DNA of the same species. That led to their recommendation of the use of mini-barcoding to complement conventional DNA barcoding techniques.

The scientists wrote, “The government, through the NMIS, can utilise DNA barcoding and mini-barcoding techniques for reliable identification of raw meat and meat products as a rapid and cost-effective method of meat species identification during inspection.”

Proper labelling, branding and packaging

They added that the Philippines should strictly implement meat product authenticity testing with proper labelling, branding, and packaging to enable consumers to obtain accurate information and ensure traceability of animal meat products. They also suggested that the use of DNA barcoding complemented with mini-barcoding could also be used to screen halal foods and detect ‘haram’, if present, in the products.

For Muslim Filipinos and the halal meat industry, the detection of all contaminants in halal meat is of utmost importance. According to the researchers, the country’s National Meat Inspection Service has not used a DNA-based method for routine screening of meat and meat products sold in the Philippine markets, to date. They see this innovation of DNA-based species identification an essential tool to ensure the safety and quality of meat and meat products, allowing consumers’ choice of consuming food according to personal, cultural, and religious beliefs.

The Meat Inspection Code of the Philippines

The researchers recommended the Philippines government to consider the application of animal forensics in routine meat inspections to increase the safety of meat and meat products.

As stated on the Agricultural Policy Platform for the Asian and Pacific region, the Meat Inspection Code of the Philippines is responsible for assuring safety and quality of meat and meat products for both the domestic and international markets. In the ‘Code,’ guidelines are laid in the following areas: institutional mechanisms, scope of meat inspection, ante- and post-mortem inspection, inspection of imported meat and meat products, sanitation, product quality and safety, product information and consumer awareness, fees and charges, and prohibited acts and sanctions.

Sellers selling fake or tampered meat

According to the Philippine News Agency, the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) has recently issued a stern warning against unscrupulous traders and online sellers using fake or tampered Certificate of Meat Inspection (COMI). In a statement, NIMS warned the public not to buy imported meat accompanied by a COMI that bears an electronic signature. It also urged the public to report any trade transactions of imported meat that are accompanied by a COMI that appears questionable.

The Philippine Veterinary Office reported that, for example, from July to December 2019, confiscated assorted meat reached about 1,200 kg. Of the confiscated meat, 98% was pork. Most of the confiscated meat were those without meat inspection certificate – a violation of RA 9296 (Meat Inspection Code of the Philippines).

The study in Forensic Science International: Animals and Environments was authored by Enrykie B. Fortajada, Ian Kendrich C. Fontanilla and Maria Corazon A. De Ungria, all attached to the University of the Philippines. Researcher Fortada is also attached to the Department of Science and Technology in Taguig City, the Philippines.

Wedzerai
Matthew Wedzerai Correspondent