A recent seminar organised by the UK Food Standards Agency allowed manufacturers throughout the food industry to discover the latest methods being employed to track and prevent food fraud.
The seminar showcased emerging technologies and methods, funded by the FSA's authenticity programme.
Food authenticity research is harnessing new technology to resolve difficult issues of mis-description. For instance, the rapid development of DNA-based techniques in other research areas has now been applied to testing food authenticity.
For example, one of the presentations described how tests have developed to authenticate Basmati rice. Basmati rice is sold at a premium on the world market, and the 'Basmati' label should only be used to describe certain long grain aromatic rice varieties grown in India and Pakistan.
Today commercial testing is available based on a DNA sequencer method. Tepnel BioSystems carried out a survey for the Rice Association, the preliminary results of which show that levels of adulterated rice have fallen since 2006.
Another presentation included discussion on the use of a lectin chip to detect adulteration of buffalo mozzarella with cow's milk. Others concerned detecting the substitution of organic crops with conventional produce using nitrogen isotope and trace element analysis, and the use of a novel approach to distinguish specific offals from skeletal muscle based on proteomics.
There was also a presentation on determining geographical origin (food origin mapping) and attendees were brought up to date with the Agency's fraud prevention initiatives.
These initiatives include the setting up of a Food Fraud Task Force (started 2006), to consider further actions to help tackle the trade in illegal food. Its initial focus was on meat fraud, but this has now extended to the whole food chain.
There is also an Illegal Meat Task Force, a network of food investigators who assist local authorities in detecting and investigating meat frauds.
In addition, the Food Fraud Database uses computer software to detect emerging patterns of fraudulent activity. Local authorities are encouraged to notify the FSA of any fraud, or suspected food fraud incidents, they might become aware of. This information is put in to the database with information from other sources, such as enforcement bodies. The database is available to local authorities looking for additional information to help with an investigation.
The authenticity programme aims to ensure that the labelling and description of foods are accurate and not misleading for customers. It identifies where labelling needs to be made clearer or more understandable, or where problems of misdescription are occurring.
The Agency then hopes that "problems may be addressed through better vigilance or by targeted enforcement, by the national food industry improving its practices, or though improved guidance or ultimately by imposing new legislation".
The authenticity programme also supports the development of effective UK and EC labelling and compositional legislation and international standards such as Codex Alimentarius.
In January 2008, a European Food Fraud Conference was held in Birmingham, UK. In his speech Dr Ian Reynolds, Deputy Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said it provided the opportunity for "Member States, the European Anti-Fraud Office and other valued representatives to meet and talk about food fraud in Europe and beyond, and for us to work together to determine what we need to do to tackle it…..so we can all better understand fraud issues, share our individual experiences and identify what's working well. I'm sure you'll agree - we need to increase international co-operation both between regulators and industry to prevent food fraud".
A spokesperson at the Agency has confirmed that discussions are taking place among conference participants about the possibility of setting up a Food Fraud European Network. At the conference, Dr Reynolds called for a Food Fraud European Network to disseminate information on potential food fraud activity .