Monday, February 18, 2013

The craziness of horse DNA

So. Horse burgers. I don't have a problem with eating horse meat, provided that's what I am expecting to eat, and I know it's not containing 'bute or other contaminants. But the way this story has been handled is rather sparse on the details. Some reports tell of "beef" burgers containing 100% horsemeat, but others simply say things like "ZOMG horse DNA found in school meals! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!"

The problem with microbiological techniques that can pick up even traces of DNA is where do you stop? When I worked in agriculture, the tractor drivers* used to have a joke. It went "How do you know when you've run over a rabbit with a combine harvester?" and the answer was "There's a loud BANG and the grain turns briefly red."

I never said it was a good joke...

Anyway, they reckoned that they would average one rabbit per field, and would also get numerous small creatures (field mice, voles, etc) which were too small to be noticed. And that's not even considering all the insects, worms, spiders, nor the rats and mice in the flour mill. Oh, and when doing DNA testing, you have to be awfully careful not to contaminate the samples - you know, gloves, washing surfaces, working in a sterile area to prevent stray flecks of DNA wafting in, etc. Not the sort of environment which would be easy to maintain in an abattoir, I imagine.

So all "vegetarian" food, unless hand-picked by by people adhering to strict Jainist principles (it is Jains who sometimes sweep the floor in front of them to avoid squishing bugs isn't it?), will contain traces of foreign animal DNA and protein. Is that a scandal? Does that mean it's not halal or kosher? I honestly have no idea.

*Oddly, four out of five drivers were called "Dave". I don't know why, but it means to this day if I'm talking to a tractor driver I will call him "Dave". I reckon I have an 80% chance of being right.

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