The Virtual Food Authenticity Network was created in response to Recommendation 4 of the Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply which highlighted the need for standardised testing approaches.
It is aimed at anyone in the UK with legitimate interest in testing for food authenticity, including analysts in testing laboratories, food manufacturers, regulators and enforcement body personnel, researchers in academic institutions or research associations and manufacturers of equipment or test kits.
The project will be overseen by Selvarani Elahi, the UK’s Deputy Government Chemist at LGC, while the practical aspects of coordinating the network will be done by Dr Mark Woolfe.
LGC was chosen by an open competitive tender based on criteria set in advance by DEFRA, which set up the platform.
For those with food authenticity interest
Steve Ellison, one of the team at LGC who is running the project, said the rationale for the network is to facilitate information exchange between people interested in food authenticity testing.
“We hope that information will be easier to find via the network because it aims to collect information from different sources,” he told FoodQualityNews.
“But an equally important aim is to facilitate information dissemination and promote discussion and interaction between members, so that they can more easily find help with technical problems. That is why the site is based on a social networking platform rather than a static information source.
“There are two main types of information at inception: Collated information on published food authenticity research, including standard operating procedures and research reports; relevant information related to published Government policy; and regular updates on food authenticity news from around the world.
“In the longer term we expect to add relevant application notes and information from training or other technical events run within the network.”
The network will raise awareness of tools to check for mislabelling and food fraud and ensure that the UK has a resilient network of laboratories with fit for purpose testing.
It already has collated a list of relevant UK Government funded research under the food authenticity programme.
The site also has an online discussion area, intended to allow expert analysts from various centres of expertise to respond to queries or discuss technical topics.
The work will be overseen by a management committee, consisting of stakeholders, which will report to, and be guided by, the Government’s Authenticity Steering Group.
Ellison said it hopes to add information, such as the Standard Operating Procedures that analysts need to carry out effective testing and include other methods relevant to food authentication by other bodies such as Codex, APA, RSC.
“We will certainly be allowing companies to join the network and they will be free to comment on their own products or capabilities on their own member pages where the information is of use,” he said.
“We do not expect to police contributions heavily, but there will be two controls on self-promotion; the first via the site's code of conduct, and the second via member comment. Because members will be able to comment on the usefulness of posts from other members, including those from commercial providers, member comment will provide a measure of peer review.
“In the longer term, we also expect to collate information on the approval status standard operating procedures and similar documents, making it easier to identify those that have been published and peer-reviewed, approved by an authoritative professional body etc.”
It will also be supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).
Ellison said the Elliott review looked at UK needs and the network was set up primarily to meet a UK need.
“We therefore expect the management committee to focus primarily on the meeting UK member needs. However, membership is open to overseas members and with the cross-border nature of food trade, we expect information exchange to benefit both UK and overseas members.”
Clare Viney, director of membership and external affairs at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Many in our network of more than 50,000 members will input into the Virtual Food Authenticity Network and the crucial role it will play in protecting us all.”