April 2015

LGC experts talk to BBC World Service about fighting food crime

Three LGC experts explain the role that science plays in combatting food fraud in an episode of ‘The Food Chain’ – a BBC World Service radio show that discusses the economics, science and culture of what we eat. 

LGC’s Michael Walker (Consultant Referee Analyst to the Government Chemist) is the first of a series of specialists who are interviewed about food fraud and the need for traceability in the food chain.

Speaking about the horse meat incident in 2013, Michael explains: “People don’t like to be cheated. We suddenly found out that we weren’t too sure about the security of the food chain. We had paid for beef but we were being sold something else. There was no ready explanation of how this had happened. People in the media, and consumers generally, were for a long time puzzled about what had gone on, who was responsible, why wasn’t it spotted and why wasn’t it stopped. The Elliott report shows that unless you actively look for it, it may well be going on under the radar.”

The programme highlights the role of science in combatting food fraud and explains the work LGC does in this area. Presenter Marnie Chesterton visited LGC to interview Paul Debenham, Director Innovation & Development, to find out how the ParaDNA kit could help enforcement officers and food crime investigators to identify species of meat present in a sample without having to send the sample away for testing in a laboratory.

Phil Dunn, from the Inorganic Analysis team in the Science & Innovation division, explains how the authenticity of food can also be traced through isotope ratio analysis. He outlines how the sucrose obtained from sugar cane and sugar beet may be the same chemically but they are isotopically distinct. He demonstrates how isotope ratio analysis is carried out in the LGC laboratories.

Phil says: “If there is a price advantage to having sugar cane rather than sugar beet, so you can say it’s Fairtrade for example, there is an incentive to pass off cheaper sugar beet as more expensive sugar cane. It is nice if there is a way to independently test whether this has happened. The isotope ratio analysis that we do here is something that can do that.” 

The radio programme ‘Fighting Food Crime’ was broadcast on BBC World Service on Monday 30 March. To listen to the episode visit the BBC World Service website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02mfqfx