Israeli company barcodes your beef for safety

Creating an international DNA library of cows: Dr. Aviv Kahana, manager of Bactochem’s molecular biology department.The idea started in Israel, where animal theft has become a major concern. Hundreds of beef cows worth $2,000 a head are being stolen a …

Creating an international DNA library of cows: Dr. Aviv Kahana, manager of Bactochem’s molecular biology department.The idea started in Israel, where animal theft has become a major concern. Hundreds of beef cows worth $2,000 a head are being stolen a year, and in most cases smuggled across the green line to the Palestinian Authority. Slaughtered immediately, with no visible trace in sight, Bactochem was asked to find a way to track and trace these animals using the “CSI” style methods the company specializes in.

Bactochem, which operates in Israel in the area of environmental quality and food health and safety, decided to create some innovation of its own. It developed a novel method using cow DNA and software, which can determine and track with a small genetic sample, such as a hair from the back of the animal, where a cow was born, bred and – if it comes to it – slaughtered.

While animal theft is less of a concern in Western countries such as America, the company is now in discussions with a German firm on how to use its testing methods and software solution, to track and trace cows for health and safety issues.

When illnesses such as foot and mouth disease strike a farm, or tainted beef turns up in supermarkets, the industry often responds by mass slaughtering animals, simply because it knows of no other way to contain the problem effectively.

This is an unnecessary move, according to Dr. Aviv Kahana, the manager of the molecular biology department of Bactochem, since the company’s technology can change the industry by keeping reliable tabs on the health of livestock at individual farms.

A DNA databank of cows

Bactochem can detect a number of significant things, Kahana tells ISRAEL21c. By keeping the animal’s DNA on file, a Jewish consumer can know whether the meat is kosher or not, if it was raised in organic free-range conditions as advertised, or even if it was exposed to diseases such as Mad Cow. The company can also tell if milk from different livestock has been mixed.

Bactochem’s plan is to collect genetic samples from livestock at birth. Today, the cost for each sample is about $25-40, but Bactochem expects to be able to reduce this cost by one-fifth, making the company an attractive “cow library” for farms around the world.

“People will be able to know if ‘Nechama’ [Hebrew for Bessie] from this and that farm, was raised in a certain way. They’ll be able to know from where each cow came,” says Kahana.

As a result, farmers and supermarkets will lose much less business, Kahana believes, and customers will in effect have a more intimate relationship with their meat.

Angus, organic or run-of-the-mill?

There is a growing trend in America for individuals and restaurants to purchase their own cows and pay for their keep until they are slaughtered. Health conscious people know that animals raised with loving-kindness or on the right diet will produce better quality meat.

Is that really Angus or organic beef you bought? Bactochem’s database will be able to prevent fraud, so consumers get exactly what their hard-earned money bought. Bactochem’s solution could be the quality seal of the future that consumers will demand.

A nationwide pilot based in Israel is expected to start in the near future. “We will probably be the first country to have a national DNA databank of cattle,” says Kahana. With basic funding from the Office of the Chief Scientist, the company is hoping that the government will fund the initiative so that local farmers and consumers can reap the rewards.

Bactochem is also pioneering a couple of other unique genetic banks. One is for tracing and tracking horses. Another project tracks the DNA of dogs in a Tel Aviv suburb, so owners who don’t scoop the poop can be tracked down from a sample of the offending dog stool.

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.