Stable isotope analysis promises new era of traceability in COOL age

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Stable isotope analysis promises new era of traceability in COOL age
Stable isotope analysis (SIA) is now becoming so sophisticated that it can help prove not only whether a sample of beef is British or Brazilian, but whether it is Scottish, Welsh or English.

SIA is therefore likely to play a major role in the enforcement of new EU country of origin labelling (COOL) legislation, predicts Dr Simon Kelly, a recognised expert in the application of stable isotope and elemental analyses to determine the geographical origin of foods.

Kelly, who was speaking at a recent seminar hosted by Campden BRI, said a recent Food Standards Agency-funded study looking at whether SIA could distinguish beef from cattle reared in different regions of the UK had proved SIA to be “very reliable”.

He added: “We could distinguish between Scottish and Welsh beef with 95% accuracy, between English and Scottish beef with 91% accuracy and between English and Welsh beef with 71% accuracy. But you would always use it in conjunction with other paper-based traceability methods.”

It was also surprisingly inexpensive, he added: “I could envisage FERA ​[the UK government's Food and Environment Research Agency] providing a routine service to organisations such as EBLEX or BPEX.”

Meanwhile, food origin determination with multi-element SIA was increasingly being used to characterise and profile premium products such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese under the EU protected names scheme, he added.

Forensics: Where does your coke come from?

SIA is best-known for its role in forensics, where it can help determine whether cocaine seized in a raid originated in Bolivia or Columbia, but is increasingly being used to tackle food fraud, he said.

By looking at ratio of isotopes of key elements such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon in a food sample, analysts can pick up important clues as to its origin, said Kelly, who heads up the contaminants and authenticity programme at FERA.

COOL and the Food Information Regulation

COOL is already compulsory for certain foods, such as beef, olive oil and fresh fruit.

However, members of the European Parliament recently voted (at the first reading of the Food Information Regulation on June 16) to extend it to other single-ingredient products including meat, poultry and dairy products.

More controversially, they also voted for mandatory COOL​ on meat, poultry and fish when used as ingredients in processed foods such as ready meals, stews and pizza.

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