FSA tests back up country of origin labels

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) latest study looking at the origin of foods claiming to be from the UK and Ireland hasn’t identified any cases of food on sale with misleading country-of-origin claims.

The study, which used a screening technique known as stable isotope ratio analysis (SIRA), followed up with investigating traceability documentation and included samples taken from mid-December 2013 to early-January 2014.

In total, 96 food samples (beef, pork, lamb, apple juice, tomatoes and honey) claimed to be from the UK, or from the Republic of Ireland, were subjected to the test. Of the samples screened using SIRA, 78 were shown immediately to be consistent with the origin claimed, and 18 were identified for follow-up investigation. Traceability and other evidence were requested for 17 of these samples, and every case the evidence supplied supported the country of origin claim.

The chief operating officer at the FSA, Andrew Rhodes, said it was vital that consumers were provided with a true picture as to where the food they buy comes from.

“If it says it’s produce from the UK, then it should be,” he said. “We wanted, in this study, to check whether people were receiving accurate information on the origin of their food and the results are reassuring for consumers and businesses.

“We also wanted to gain experience of using the relatively new SIRA technology as a tool to show the country of origin of foodstuffs. We found SIRA effective in raising questions about where a food comes from but we relied on traceability information to further investigate origin.

“Defra and the FSA are continuing to work with the research community and industry to improve our ability to test the origin of foods and we look to build on this useful piece of work in the months ahead.”

The samples were mostly taken from retail or wholesale outlets, although four samples of raw beef burgers were obtained from caterers. The samples were not fully representative of the market, but, within the limitations of a small study, provided a reasonable spread across retailers and across the four countries of the UK. Samples were taken from both top end food ranges and economy ranges.

For food law authorities, it’s very valuable to have a screening test that can help target investigation. SIRA has been shown to have real potential. For some foods it’s already a realistic possibility for enforcement authorities to use SIRA screening, although for others some further development would be beneficial.

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