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Development of breed specific assays for beef and pork authentication - FA0125

The labelling and sale of meat by traditional breed of origin is widely used within the retail industry in the United Kingdom to promote the quality and authenticity of meats and attract a premium price in the marketplace. This situation provides an opportunity for fraudulent traders to gain financial advantage by deliberately mislabelling meat as originating from a traditional breed. Pig and cattle breed societies have expressed concern that mislabelled pork and beef products are being sold in the United Kingdom, undermining the business of traditional breed producers and defrauding the consumer. To address this issue the Food Standards Agency commissioned research project Q01130 designed to conduct research and development for a DNA breed identification tool for the authentication of traditional breed meat products in the UK. The main project, transferred to Defra, together with a small extension project (FA0112), were successfully completed, delivering a single assay based on 192 SNP DNA markers that is capable of distinguishing twelve breeds of pig and identifying four breeds of cattle. The identification system relies on the assignment of a sample’s DNA profile to its genetic breed origin using reference data representing all likely breeds.

The pig/cattle breed test has now been successfully employed by several county councils to investigate fraudulent beef sales, demonstrating the existence of mislabeled food in the UK marketplace. However, uptake of the test by both service laboratories and end-users is severely limited by the cost and shelf life of the laboratory reagents and the complexity of the data analysis. For applied purposes, the alternative to a single assay for all breeds in two species is a series of less complex breed-specific assays that aim to exclude all non-target breeds. Such tests would be cheaper to apply for smaller sample numbers, have a longer shelf life, be more readily employed by public analysts and still provide sufficiently robust, powerful results to authenticate cattle and pig products sold by breed in the UK. This project therefore seeks to extend the research undertaken on projects Q01130 and FA0112 in order to produce a suite of validated DNA tests for authenticating meat products sold by individual breed.

Anticipated Outputs
• A simplified, accessible monitoring and enforcement tool for routine meat breed authentication.
• Commercial protection for traditional breed farmers, the retail industry and consumers.
• A deterrent to the mislabelling of UK meat.
• An extension to the molecular genetic service portfolio of many UK Public Analysts
The aim the work proposed here is to transfer recent Defra-funded R&D of DNA tools for the identification of meat from specific cattle and pig breeds into validated, cost-effective assays capable of uptake and implementation across UK Public Analysts and other laboratory testing organizations.


1. Sample Collection Partner = TRACE & BPA Duration = 3 months
Objective. To obtain additional reference samples of animals from target cattle and pig breeds.

2. Genetic Data Production Partner = TRACE Duration = 4 months
Objective. To assemble a complete set of SNP genotype data from which to design individual breed diagnostic tests.

3. Bioinformatic analysis Partner = TRACE Duration = 2 months
Objective. To conduct bioinformatic analysis of the cattle and pig population genetic datasets to identify the individual SNP markers that are associated with breed differentiation.

4. Assay Design Partner = TRACE Duration = 4 months
Objective. To establish suitable analytical methods for assigning a test sample to its breed of origin.

5. Internal Validation Partner = TRACE Duration = 2 months
Objective. To design and implement a validation protocol for the initial assessment of methods and SOPs.

6. External Validation Partner = MTD Duration = 4 months
Objective. To design and implement a rigorous validation of the different assays and associated SOPs under a range of analytical conditions to determine their suitability for applied use.

Project Final Report & SOPs Partner = TRACE & MTD Duration = 1 month

Additional Work (based on success of main project, NOT in budget)
7. Training Partner = TRACE & MTD Duration = 4 months
Objective. To identify and train relevant end-users (Public Analysts) in the application of the tools developed and validated under the project.

Each objective is dependent on the completion of its predecessor. This allows for a clear evaluation of project progress and provides potential for the insertion of break points within the project. The overall risk associated with this model is that any delays in achieving one objective are likely to have a knock-on effect throughout the project. Specific risks associated with the completion of each objective are given in section 2.3f below.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : Final Report FA0125   (5682k)
• SUP - Supplementary Report : Appendix V External Validation Report   (2515k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2013

To: 2014

Cost: £105,728
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Trace Wildlife Forensics Network Ltd