The two year contract is to analyse olive oil and items including sugar, hops, grass, beef, cereals and counter-analyses for milk products.
It is the twentieth consecutive year Campden BRI has held a contract with RPA or its predecessor.
The RPA is an Executive Agency of DEFRA, it is the final decision maker to who gets the contract and Campden BRI, as the chosen laboratory, carries out the analyses.
Preventing food fraud
Dr Julian South, head of chemistry and biochemistry at Campden BRI, said it is looking for fraud and non-conformity in various foods.
“There are a wide range of tests depending on the regulation involved and the product being tested. Olive oil is just one product type,” he said.
“In a completely different example, we look at the moisture and nitrogen content of grass to establish whether fertilizer is being used or not. The methods we use vary depending on the measurement being sought.”
Part of the contract is the testing of olive oil to determine whether the grade (e.g. Extra Virgin) is correctly declared on the label.
A combination of climatic effects, olive fly infestation, and a bacterial infection (Xylella fastidiosa) has resulted in a disastrous Italian olive crop.
Combined with a poor crop in Spain, this has significantly reduced the 2014 olive oil harvest, driving up prices and enhancing the incentive for fraud.
Discrepancy between chemical profile and labelling
Dr South explained how the process would work if they found something wrong.
“Taking olive oil as an example, if we find a discrepancy between the product’s chemical profile and the way it is labelled, we would report this to the RPA, which then commissions an independent repeat analysis on a duplicate sample taken at the same time,” he said.
“Depending on the results from this second analysis, it would then be for the RPA to decide what further action might be necessary.
“The general impact of fraud is on financial loss to the consumer – paying for a higher quality than they are getting. However, over the years there have been some instances where fraud has led to safety issues.
“These are well documented – examples outside of the RPA contract are melamine in some dairy formula and more recently peanut husk in spices.”
The International Olive Council (IOC) said production will hit its lowest level in 15 years and admitted there will be an upswing in prices.
Latest figures show the price from the producers had risen by 121% in the last month of 2014 compared with December 2013, with supply down by almost a third.
EU olive oil regulations came into force in the UK on 1 March 2014 to ensure that it is marketed correctly and provide a deterrent against fraud.
Gas chromatography was used to look at the minor lipid components and the properties of oil including fatty acid methyl and ethyl esters, acidity, waxes and sterols.
Meanwhile, Campden BRI has officially opened a lab containing instruments worth over £2.5m, for analysis of contaminants, food authenticity testing and flavour analysis.
The lab has been named the Halls’ Laboratory in honour of a Gloucestershire family who have been involved since establishment in 1919.
It was opened by Professor Martin Hall, director of science, who celebrated 40 years of service with the company on July 1.
Martin’s grandfather, F.W Hall, was the first to join the research company in 1919 and worked as an experimental gardener managing crop trials.