Defra’s Authenticity Methods Working Group (AMWG) looked at how to boost existing testing, against budgetary constraints, for better collaboration between labs and other stakeholders as part of a response to a section of the Elliott Review.
The Technical Sub Group (TSG) of the AMWG considered recommendation four of the review on standards of analysis; the way sampling is conducted and the availability of laboratory services themselves.
It said In place of standardised methods, the analytical community has developed the approach of “fitness for purpose”, i.e. where the method performance is properly defined and understood and results are anchored to reference materials.
Fitness for purpose approach
At present there are no international standardisation committees dedicated specifically to food authenticity/fraud, noted the group.
The nearest standardisation committee is ISO/TC34/SC16 Horizontal Methods for Molecular Biomarker Analysis13 which has a working group (WG5) dedicated to ‘Varietal Identification’.
It has been focussed on the analysis of GMOs and WG5 has been relatively inactive.
However, there have been a few food authenticity/fraud orientated methods submitted for consideration as ISO standards so WG5 might become more active in the future.
On the fitness for purpose of methods, the group said Defra should continue to support development of new enabling methodology and the AMWG and TSG should ensure any new methodology is fit for purpose before being transferred to the analytical community.
“ASG and AMWG will raise awareness of the food supply chain of the need to use analytical laboratories with the right expertise. If a laboratory is not ISO17025 accredited, industry should use ones that participate in accredited schemes such as CLAS, LabCred.
“The AMWG should continue to regularly review and update existing authenticity methods and identify gaps in testing methodology and align with the EU activity to harmonise methods.”
TSG said a key issue which the Elliott Review does not address is analytical laboratories have little or no control on how representative a sample is of the bulk food (or feed) it may represent.
It recommended the government’s authenticity programme produces food authenticity-specific sampling guidance focussing on the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and demonstration that sampling has been correctly undertaken.
The government’s Food Authenticity Programme, started in 1994, is focused on developing methodology for detecting mislabelling and other types of food fraud.
It has identified emerging authenticity issues and funded development of methods to detect food fraud.
The majority are based on novel, innovative science and not existing analytical approaches.
The programme has commissioned over 150 projects, covering a range of techniques (e.g. stable isotope ratio analysis, proteomics, genomics, metabolomics) across food and beverage matrices and production types.
Over 30 of the methods developed have been converted to standard operating procedures and made available for use by analytical laboratories.
For the recommendation on overall lab capacity TSG said it is being handled by the Department of Health with Public Health England but did consider capacity in the context of ‘centres of excellence’.
TSG supported proposals for a virtual network of ‘Centres of Excellence’ in food authenticity and noted that Defra sent a letter to potential participants which received a positive response.
This will allow quick, easy access to lab services/experts across diverse techniques as needed.
It recommended DEFRA map out the current UK capability of the main providers of food authenticity testing in terms of key areas, vertical commodity and horizontal methodology expertise.
Defra aims to appoint a coordinator for the network during April 2015.