Retailers will soon be able to distinguish almost instantly between beef and horse meat in products, thanks to a new device built by British engineers.

The technology can distinguish between fatty acids from horses, cows, geese, pigs and sheep. It is also being developed to recognise rat meat.

Oxford Instruments and the Institute of Food Research have developed a machine that can identify meat before it is processed.

“The methods being developed will be rapid and low cost,” says a spokesman for Oxford Instruments. “Dozens of samples could be analysed per day, taking 10-15 minutes per test, at a typical cost of less than £20 per sample.

“This makes the system ideal and affordable for high-throughput screening, or for pre-screening ahead of more time-consuming and expensive DNA testing.

“The research has reached a point where we are able to differentiate between whole cuts or chunks of beef, lamb, pork and horse. Further development work will be carried out over the coming months, to extend the methodology to the detection of small amounts of minced meat in the presence of another, mimicking many of the adulteration events that came to light earlier this year.”

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