New test to detect fake Basmati rice

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rice

UK based laboratory, Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL), claims it has developed a reliable DNA screening method for identifying adulteration of Basmati rice.

Basmati rice is sold at a premium on the world market, and the 'Basmati' label should only be used to describe certain long grain aromatic rice varieties grown in India and Pakistan.

According to RSSL, DNA testing is particularly useful for identifying basmati rice variety as under European law a basmati product must not be more than seven per cent non-basmati rice, and variety testing on rice is very difficult to do without using DNA techniques.

“The method [based on DNA profiling] has been validated on all of the commercially available varieties of Basmati rice and has been designed to give suppliers and consumers confidence in the accuracy of product labelling,”​ said Barbara Hirst, technical manager of RSSL’s DNA and protein laboratories.


She said that the technique is based on Food Standards Agency (FSA) methodology, and has been proven by participation in a ring trial organised by agency.

Hirst told that the RSSL testing service is open to food manufacturers and retailers throughout Europe, and the results are available within ten days; the laboratory requires companies to send a representative sample size – this is determined by the client, she added, but the minimum sample requirement is 500 grams.

“We have had numerous requests for this type of testing service from organizations involved in handling rice both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe - as soon as the product arrives from the country of origin it has to be checked,”​ she said.

Hirst explained that a basic version of the method will identify the presence of any other non-Basmati rice present in the product, and will establish if the amount of Basmati achieves the minimum level of 93 per cent set by EU Regulation 1549/04, while​for samples that are to be labelled as a single Basmati rice variety, the method can also be used to verify whether or not the declared Basmati rice is the variety present.

DNA testing performed by scientists at the University of Bangor, commissioned by the FSA in 2002, showed that only 54 per cent of bags labelled as basmati rice contained purely that product. 46 per cent were diluted with inferior products, some by up to 60 per cent.

Food fraud

In November, the FSA set up a new hotline to allow individuals and businesses to report fraudulent activity in food sales and marketing in a much quicker and easier way than previously.

The FSA said that there was no particular catalyst which inspired the hotline’s creation, but that the FSA is always looking at new ways of doing things, and that it is hopeful the new service will lead to an increase in reports and help to reduce incidents.

The hotline, +44 (0)20 7276 8527, is unstaffed. Any callers who wish to report a case of known or suspected food fraud are put through to an answerphone where they can leave details.

The answerphone will be checked “regularly”​, according to the FSA. The agency promises that all calls are treated “in the strictest confidence”​ but it encourages callers to the number to leave their contact details in order to facilitate verification and further investigation of reports.

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