Fighting Fraud

20 Nov 2006

The UK Food Standards Agency believes that 10 per cent of our shopping is counterfeit. Many everyday goods generate money for food criminals in what has been dubbed a “food fraud epidemic”.

The FSA carries out spot checks on all food and drink to determine whether they are safe for the consumer and whether the customer is getting what he paid for. Backed by an important European Commission initiative which addresses food fraud, scientists are developing highly sophisticated ways of food testing.

A breakthrough has been DNA testing, used to determine whether produce contains genetically modified organisms. The method was recently used by the FSA to uncover a multi-million pound scam involving basmati rice. However, DNA testing cannot confirm where the produce was grown.

The Walloon Agricultural Research Centre in Belgium, under the umbrella of GeoTraceAgri, a project funded by the European Commission, has been working on a satellite system to monitor food crops. The system is effective where small-scale production of premium products is concerned, but cannot provide definite proof of origin.

Chemistry is another useful weapon in the food fraud battle. The isotope ratio in a product can tell scientist where the produce was grown and how certain animals were raised – this technique is even being used by the FSA to distinguish between wild and farmed fish.

Differentiating between organic and non-organic produce remains very difficult. Testing for antibiotics is a method that can be used on animals, but the testing for everything else is limited to what should not be there.

Source: The Independent

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