When we purchase meat that’s labeled, “hamburg,” we can rest assured it’s made from beef, Right? We can trust that what’s on the label is also what’s in the product we purchase.

This is not necessarily true in Great Britain.

Where’s the beef?

The United Kingdom has had some problems lately with things showing up in their meats that are not listed on the labels, some of the products even containing unidentified DNA, the BBC discovered last week via one of their Freedom of Information Requests to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the British counterpart to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And apparently, the meat mix-up was not an accident, but consistent with ‘deliberate inclusion,’ they said.

One out of every five meats tested, including sausages, burgers, and pizzas, in British supermarkets, butchers, wholesalers, and restaurants collected from 665 meat products, contained meats from as many as four different animals. 487 brands and shops have been implicated, but their names have not been released.

What meats, where?

According to the report by the FSA, 145 of the samples contained, in part or in whole, unspecified meats. And in 37 of the cases, the meat specified on the label was not found in the product at all. The rate at which meats were seeded with other meats was:

77 Lamb
29 Beef
19 Goat     
18 Pork/ham  
1 Duck
1 Ostrich

Cow DNA was the most commonly-found contaminant, followed by pig, chicken, sheep and turkey. There was even one instance of a “ham and cheese pizza” containing neither ham nor cheese.

In another case, an ostrich burger was found to contain no ostrich at all, just 100% beef.

The most commonly mislabeled product was mincemeat, followed by kebabs, curry, sausages, goat meat and burgers.

Some meats, even showed signs of decomposition.

The regulator–the Food Standards Agency, which defines any level of DNA of undeclared species, of over 1% as “gross adulteration”–said the failure rate found was higher because its sampling programs were targeted as categories of produce that were already suspected of compliance issues. They further cautioned that because less than half of local authorities submitted meat samples, the results were not representative of
the wider food industry.

Will this be corrected and who is responsible for ensuring results?

A spokesman for the FSA said that the local authorities who’d sent the meat samples would be responsible for taking “appropriate action” based on the findings. So, it may be some time before it’s all sorted out.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in the UK. Back in 2013, they had a problem with horse-meat found in numerous meats tested. The overall failure rate in 2013 for meat in local authority testing held by the FSA, was 13.5%. This was 12.5% about the gross adulteration standard set by that governing body.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of traveling to England anytime soon, it may be a good idea to stick to vegetarian cuisine.


1. Over a fifth of meat in Britain’s restaurants and supermarkets contain ‘unspecified animal’ DNA. Harry Pettit. The Daily Mail. September 5, 2018.

2. More than a Fifth of Meat Samples from Supermarkets and Restaurants Found to Contain DNA from Animals Not on the Label. Rachel Hosie. The Independent. September 7, 2018.