03. 08. 2007
A slice of beef with a pedigree
Back in August I covered the work done by the St Petersburg Times to expose fish wholesalers who were purposely mislabeling fish shipments to pass off common catfish as exotic grouper. The Times has continued their coverage and the story has been slowly evolving into a great body of work.
In a similar vein PopSci is running a piece entitled "The Future of Personal Security" this month, and item number five is about protecting the food supply. TraceBack is a new system for DNA testing cattle and swine, and then recording the movements of the butchered meat. A butcher would be able to take a small sample of beef and cross-reference the DNA against an IdentiGEN database to verify that the meat is from a healthy animal.
It's an interesting question: How do food inspectors find the culprit during a contamination outbreak? Currently it's with gumshoe detective work, but with TraceBack the history of the meat is readily available. Investigators can just compare twenty samples, and the common denominator would be the guilty party. This is essentially a high-tech version of the analog methods used with dry goods; last month's Salmonella contaminated peanut butter samples were all readily identifiable by the prodcut codes the government requires to be stamped on top of the lid.
IdentiGEN is already providing their services for the UK's Tesco chain, and we should be seeing TraceBack on the American West Coast by the end of 2007.