LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Meat retailers now can trace their wares from the ranch to the refrigerator case using DNA analysis.
IdentiGEN Ltd., based in Ireland, with U.S. offices in Lawrence, Kan., said its DNA TraceBack technology can boost consumer confidence, as well as the value of the hamburger, steak, pork cuts and other meat.
TraceBack can determine not only where meat came from but whether it's organic or Angus -- or whatever the label says, company officials said. Chief Executive Don Marvin said it's the first product to offer DNA tracing for the entire meat supply chain.
"If you see a DNA TraceBack label, believe it," Marvin said. "It's true. It's DNA."
But some in the industry aren't convinced it's worth adding to their rising costs.
The technology, approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October, has been in use in Europe since 2000. British grocer Tesco and Ireland's Superquinn and Dunnes Stores use it, and IdentiGEN officials said two U.S. companies have signed contracts to use it and a third grocer is close to a deal.
Public announcements of the deals are expected in the next few months, Marvin said. Tesco and Superquinn launched marketing campaigns in Europe after implementing DNA TraceBack, but the U.S. retailers haven't publicly announced their use of the product.
Bovigen LLC, a Louisiana company recently purchased by Pfizer Animal Health, also offers USDA-approved DNA tracing. But Bovigen plans to use it only to help producers identify beef cattle for specific traits for breeding purposes, spokesman Rick Goulart said.
Dave Schafer, executive director of the Kansas Meat Processors Association, said he is skeptical that DNA tracing is necessary in the United States or that producers will want to add to already high food prices.
"There is no evidence there is a serious safety problem or even a very minimal problem to justify the cost," Schafer said.
And producers such as Brian Beckman of Grinnell Locker Plant in Grinnell, Kan., said they wondered how accurate the technology could be, noting that some slaughterhouses process hundreds of animals at once.
But Marvin said IdentiGEN's technology, which can identify the multiple animals whose parts were used in a given sample of ground beef, could have helped reduce the amount of meat recalled after undercover videos revealed employees at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino abusing sick and weakened cows.
The revelations in February led to the recall of 143 million pounds of beef, the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
Workers take DNA samples at the processing and retail links on the supply chain and send them to IdentiGEN, which correlates them and determines the specific animals that each product came from.
Information kept by farmers or others in the supply chain can be added to give a full history.