UK rice importers have signed up to a new code of practice aimed at reassuring consumers that rice labelled and sold as 'Basmati' is the real deal.
The new, tighter code is in response to concerns that Basmati rice sold in the UK contains high levels of other non-Basmati varieties. Basmati rice only grows in specific regions of India and Pakistan.
In the last four years around 250,000 tonnes of Basmati rice has been imported into the UK and currently accounts for about 37 per cent of the UK dry rice market by value, with a value of £50m per year.
These good sales depend largely on consumer confidence that they are paying for a superior product. But recent figures from the UK's food watchdog suggested that nearly half of all 'pure' basmati sold in Britain was contaminated with inferior long-grain rice.
Reported in the daily newspaper The Independent, the study by the Food Standards Agency of nearly 300 samples of rice sold in a range of outlets from supermarkets to corner shops found that nearly one in five packets had more than 20 per cent of non-basmati rice. In one in 10 cases, the adulteration reached 60 per cent.
A spokesman for the agency said: "Basmati rice ... is a premium product and therefore attracts higher prices than other long-grain rice. Telling the difference between them is difficult, and there is a profit to be made from mixing in a cheaper variety. The industry code of practice is out of date and there is a need for new standards."
The new code, drawn up by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the rice industry and the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS), comes in direct response to this. It recognises advances in technology that identifies mixture and variety, lists those varieties that are approved by the Pakistani and Indian authorities and can use the description 'Basmati' and sets out minimum specifications for Basmati rice sold in the UK.
The new regulation applies to pre packed and non-packed rice and also rice used as an ingredient in other products.
"The BRC is very pleased industry has reached agreement on a tighter code of practice," said BRC director general Kevin Hawkins.
"This is a perfect example of how industry can work together and come up with a practical solution for all involved, while still protecting the consumer.
"The UK is the largest user of Basmati rice in the EU and so retailers want their customers to know that what they are buying is quality, authentic Basmati rice. We hope the code will restore and uphold the reputation of this product."
Last month, scientists in the UK said they had developed a reliable DNA screening method for identifying adulteration in basmati rice, increasingly important at a time when certain varieties are attracting premium prices.
Researchers from Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL) said that they had developed the screening method - which has been validated on all of the commercially available varieties - to allow both suppliers and consumers to have more confidence in the accuracy of product labelling.