Reading the label on whatever food you’re eating is an important first-step, whether you’re trying to track your calories, limit your fat intake, or just want to know which ingredients you’re chewing and swallowing. Paying close attention to that tiny font on the side of the package can sometimes be an eye-opener: For instance, just last week, consumer advocacy organization Which? discovered that one in five vanilla ice creams sold in Britain didn’t contain any vanilla, cream or milk.
But what do you do when the list of ingredients doesn’t accurately reflect the food inside the packaging? That’s a good question. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), the United Kingdom’s independent food safety watchdog, learned that one-fifth of the meat samples it tested in 2017 contained DNA from animals that weren’t listed on the label. According to the BBC, the FSA tested 665 samples from 487 locations—including restaurants, supermarkets and meat-processing plants—and 145 of those samples “were partly or wholly made up of unspecified meat.”
The most frequently contaminated meat (defined as a meat that contained an unrelated animal or animal’s DNA) was lamb, followed by beef, goat, and pork. Some of the samples collected by the FSA contained DNA from up to four (!!!) different animals, while others did not have any of the meat that was listed on the label. A package of ostrich meat, for example, was discovered to be zero-percent ostrich and 100% beef.
The samples that were sent to the FSA for testing were collected by local authorities, which have been tasked with taking “appropriate action” after receiving the results. Despite the not-great-sounding DNA contamination issues, an FSA spokesperson told the BBC that this was “not representative of the wider food industry.”
Earlier this summer, the FSA started a separate investigation after lab tests conducted by the Daily Telegraph showed that some meat-free and vegan food sold in two major supermarket chains contained trace amounts of meat.
Sainsbury’s brand Meat Free Meatballs allegedly contained traces of pork, and Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen BBQ Butternut Mac was found to have traces of turkey meat; both items are listed as being vegetarian and vegan, respectively, and should obvs not include any amount of meat or animal products. (Sainsbury told Reuters that it tested the same product and no animal DNA was detected, while Tesco wanted to know which lab the Telegraph used. Both grocery chains said that they were conducting their own investigations.)
“Our priority is to ensure consumers can be confident that the food they eat is safe and is what it says it is,” an FSA spokesperson told the Telegraph. “We are investigating the circumstances surrounding these alleged incidents and any resulting action will depend upon the evidence found.”
We’re either going to live on a working farm or just eat doughnuts every day for the rest of our lives. If the box says “doughnut,” it’s probably a doughnut. A glorious, DNA-free doughnut.