GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A horse meat scandal in Europe is keeping a Gainesville company very busy.
Since January, horse meat has turned up in beef products in countries throughout Europe in everything from frozen meals to lunch served in school cafeterias, and those who were eating it had no idea.
Now companies around the world turning to a Gainesville business for help. ELISA Technologies, Inc. has created the first of its kind test that can detect horse protein. Scientists at the company's lab are working around the clock making the test kits and testing samples sent in from around the world.
"It's not like one shipment got mislabeled and one type of food got mislabeled. You hear of every day some place popping up is they found it here or there (in Europe), and the big reason is because people are starting to look," said ELISA Technologies Administrative Director Natalie Rosskopf.
Just this month, Britain's food regulator said horse meat had been found in Taco Bell beef products there. Nestle, Burger King, Birds Eye, even Ikea have removed products amid horse meat revelations. In light of the scandal, Rosskopf said business has been booming.
"We were the only ones that had it (the horse protein test) when it broke out so we were getting calls from everywhere. 'When can we get it? How much is it? Where do we get?' It was just a frenzy," said Rosskopf. "We've sent test kits to China, to the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Chile. They have just been going all over."
While other companies can test for horse DNA, Rosskopf said the ELISA test kit is the only one of its kind that actually tests for horse protein, and compared to DNA tests, it's more cost efficient. A kit that costs around $500 can test around two dozen samples. It can detect down to one percent horse meat.
Rosskopf said if horse meat is detected in the U.S. food supply, there are two big concerns.
"If something is mislabeled or says it's supposed to be beef and it's not beef that's a fraud issue. The second issue is here if you get horse in something that is suppose to be beef, what type of horse is it? Is it horse that has been full of steroids? Is it a sickly animal? Did it have antibiotics? ... It's really a case of whatever that animal eats or whatever happens to that animal if you eat that animal it happens to you, so it's a real concern. That's why you want things traceable and want people held accountable."
So far, none of the hundreds of samples tested in the ELISA lab have tested positive for horse meat, including the three samples First Coast News had tested.
"I would just believe in the market, believe in America's market, said scientist Jasmine Hagan. "So far, nothing has come up positive, so we are OK over here. Just as long as people are being truthful, everything should be OK."
So how do you make sure the meat you are eating is what it says on the label? Rosskopf said just looking at it, you can't tell. She recommends buying only meat produced in the U.S.
The tests her company sells are intended for industry and laboratory use and not for use at home.
First for you, click here for some frequently asked questions and answers about the chances of a horse meat scandal in the United States.
Just last week, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would prohibit horse slaughter operations in America. You can read the legislation here.
First Coast News