The five-year, EU-funded FoodIntegrity project will harness the expertise of scientists and major interest groups from across the globe.
It will include the creation of a UK early-warning system to flag up food fraud risks, linked to international data sources, such as the US National Centre for Food Defence and Protection.
€3M has been set aside to close gaps in food fraud research as part of the scheme, which aims to make food fraud testing consistent across all EU Member States.
It will be linked to web-crawler and text-mining activities scrutinising consumer behaviour and a range of inputs, such as public health issues, population changes and global trade trends.
The project aims to form expert groups to feed food fraud and authenticity information into EU bodies, including the European Commission and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Industry, consumer and regulatory groups will be created to ensure fast application of all technology, methods and knowledge developed.
A consumer study will also be undertaken in China to assess how Chinese consumers view counterfeit EU food products, since this could be damaging UK exports to China.
An initial conference, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to explain the scheme takes place on February 27, as part of a week-long programme of events.
‘Best minds in science’
“The UK has some of the highest standards of food safety in the world and is home to some of the best minds in science,” said DEFRA minister for food George Eustice.
“I’m immensely proud that we have been chosen to drive world-leading, cutting-edge research that will improve our ability to prevent food fraud.”
Paul Brereton, FoodIntegrity project co-ordinator and head of agri-food research at FERA, added: “As the perpetrators of food fraud use increasingly sophisticated methods to avoid detection so science must develop to detect and prevent this crime.
“The project will provide a focal point for the sharing and exploitation of European research aimed at protecting the integrity of food production in Europe.”
FERA was chosen to lead the scheme because it has more than 20 years of experience in dealing with food authenticity.