THE possibility of finding human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in meat products was quite likely as abattoir workers were continually cutting themselves during production, experts told Parliament’s portfolio committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on Tuesday.

This emerged during briefings from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Health, and the Department of Trade and Industry, plus Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape.

Stellenbosch University professor of meat sciences Louw Hoffman said in reply to an MP’s question that "Workers are often cutting themselves. If we had done DNA tests, we probably would have found traces of human DNA in the products."

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries deputy director-general Botlhe Modisane said: "It is possible that (if tested) we could find traces of human DNA in meat. However, even if we do find human DNA, it does not mean we are eating human flesh."

The committee was conducting the hearing in response to the recent horse-meat scandal in Europe, the fact the Cabinet had decided South Africa’s own meat production industry should be investigated, and local scandals regarding the mislabelling of products.

Mr Modisane told the committee that the real issue in Europe and locally was that products were often not labelled properly and that so far there was no real health risk.

The committee also heard that often traces of animal meat other than those indicated were found in samples used in research conducted by the two universities.

University of the Western Cape associate professor of genetics Maria D’Amato said she had found the DNA traces of four different animals in one beef sausage.

However, she said none of the animal meat was illegal in terms of what may be slaughtered and consumed.

This prompted the MPs to demand that the three government departments work together more closely.