AHDB: Isotope testing protects British pork


The isotope-testing project is used to verify whether pork products claiming to be British are truly British. The pork sector is at the forefront of driving the use of this technology to protect the sector and its brand. Dr Miranda Bowden-Doyle, AHDB Animal Health and Welfare Scientist, explains more about how the scheme works.

Posted on Aug 08 ,00:10

AHDB: Isotope testing protects British pork

Isotope testing can be used to indicate where an animal was raised and can, therefore, highlight the possibility that imported pork products are being mis-sold as British. This protects the British brand, protects producers from fraudulent product and helps to protect the price premium of British pork.

There have been several cases of potential food fraud in the British meat sectors in recent years, most recently in March 2023 when beef sourced from South America and Europe was sold as British. The high levels of inflation we are currently seeing will be pressuring businesses, which could make fraud more likely as British products often command a price premium.

The isotope-testing project for pork, which has been running since 2009, acts as both a deterrent and an early warning system, protecting British pork from similar scandals and boosting both the sector’s reputation and consumer confidence.

Samples of fresh and cured pork products bought from retailers are sent to a laboratory. Here, the levels of certain isotopes within the meat are analysed and compared with a reference database. This reference database, composed of nearly 1,500 samples, contains the isotope levels from samples of known origin. The likelihood of a sample being British is based on how closely it matches samples in this reference database.

If a sample is identified as having a low likelihood of British origin, further investigation is undertaken by the appropriate authority. It is important to note, however, that a warning sample does not automatically mean that the product is fraudulent. There are three potential reasons for a warning sample:

  1. There is a gap in the reference database, meaning the sample tested does not have a closely matched reference.
  2. There has been a change in production method.
  3. The sample is not from where it claims to be from.

Alison Johnson, Managing Director of Food Forensics, who conducted the testing on behalf of AHDB, said:

"The testing is highly effective, correctly categorising more than 90% of samples submitted, and can distinguish British and Irish products from imported samples. The more engagement we get from the sector, the better we will be able to protect our British brand.

"We urge all food business operators to get involved in collecting reference samples, either by collecting samples themselves using the Food Forensics remote-witnessing process and sending them to Food Forensics or by allowing auditors or Food Forensics staff to collect samples on their behalf".

Mrs Johnson added: "The larger and more regularly refreshed the reference sample database, the more robust the test and the fewer flagged results we are likely to see. By being on the front foot, the pork sector can provide a real point of difference and protect themselves against the food fraud samples we have seen in other sectors".

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