DNA research to determine food authenticity


<p>DNA methods are increasingly used to detect food counterfeits. They can detect the animal or plant species the foodstuff consists of or originates from. The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira has introduced a DNA bar code system, making it possible to establish the origin of a foodstuff. A counterfeit food always presents a food safety risk.</p>

DNA methods are easier to use than ever, since information on the genome of various organisms is constantly increasing.

"A given lactic acid bacterial strain can be added to origin-protected cheeses, allowing the origin of the cheese to be ascertained by means of the DNA of the strain. The added lactic acid bacteria do not change the taste, texture or composition of the cheese", states Senior Researcher, PhD Annikki Welling of Evira’s Research Unit for Chemistry and Toxicology.

In future, what are known as synthetic DNA bar codes may also be used. DNA sequences derived from plants are encapsulated in an odourless, colourless and tasteless material. They can be sprayed onto the food surface at any stage of the food process, for example, on the farm, at the packing plant or at the retailer.

"In the laboratory tests, the encapsulated DNA is isolated, and thus the origin or production chain of the foodstuff can be traced. A synthetic bar code can also be embedded into a product that normally comes out without any DNA, such as olive oil", Welling says.

Food counterfeits affect the entire food chain

The economic value of the international food trade is very high, but this also makes food-related fraudulent activity economically attractive. Adulterated foods damage the operation of honest food companies and, at worst, may pose a danger to consumer’s lives.

"The global economy, in particular the constantly increasing cross-border trade, opens up possibilities for organised and more extensive food counterfeit crime. Product counterfeiters can directly utilise the markets of honestly operating companies and of genuine products. Fraudulent activity also causes economic damage to the associates of companies operating honestly, particularly in marketing, advertising and logistics", says Senior Inspector Jussi Peusa of Evira's Product Safety Unit.

Food frauds are also included in food counterfeits. In food frauds, the foodstuff is not changed in any way but is sold as something other than what it actually is; for example, horse meat has been passed off as beef.

Evira is part of Food Fraud Network, a co-operation network of the European commission and EU member states, dealing with food frauds.

A co-ordination group targeted at the prevention of food frauds was established in Finland in the autumn of 2014. The group includes members from Evira, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Customs, the National Police Board, the Tax Administration, the Finnish Prosecution Service and the National Administrative Office for Enforcement.

Counterfeit foods will also be featured at ChemBio Finland 2015 (in Finnish), an event open to the public, on 18 - 19 March 2015.

Further information:

Senior Researcher, Annikki Welling, PhD, tel. 040 481 2270, Research Unit for Chemistry and Toxicology
Senior Inspector Jussi Peusa, tel. 050 379 2862, Product Safety Unit


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