organic food
August 29, 2014

Researchers Work Towards Preventing Organic Food Fraud

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Our society seems fraught with fraud. There are fraudulent products, fraudulent services, fraudulent identities and now fraudulent food. The organic food market is growing, with consumers quite willing to pay more for fruits, vegetables and more that are labeled "organic." But are the food products they are being sold truly organic?

A new study from the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, describes a new way to make sure farms are labeling their produce correctly. The team says that their work with conventional and organic tomatoes could help prevent food fraud.

The research team, including scientists from Wuerzburg University, found that the demand for organic food is growing quite rapidly. Between 2001 and 2012, the global market value of organic food nearly tripled — reaching $62.8 billion. With so much money riding on organic labeling, fraud was nearly inevitable.

There are many complications to finding out whether or not a product is truly organic. The most reliable recent authentication methods analyze the stable isotope composition of nitrogen. This method is not fool-proof, however. The team, led by Monika Hohmann of Wuerzburg University, wanted to develop a more reliable test.

According to Refinery 29, the research team examined two types of tomatoes grown outdoors and in greenhouses, with both organic and conventional fertilizers. They gathered samples from 361 plants over seven months, then used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. This data allowed the research team to measure the amount of a vast array of chemicals, as well as tomato pulp components — for example glucose, citric acid, and tomato pulp components.

The researchers were able to identify a set of chemical differences between the organically and conventionally grown tomatoes using the NMR to assess the chemical shift — or degree to which each nucleus' spin changes in a magnetic field.

They found variations in the following chemicals based on how the tomatoes were grown. These chemicals include malic acid, asparagine, glucose and adenosine monophosphate. The team says that more research is needed to understand how their new test will translate to other foods.

They also caution that they were using the EU definition of "organic," which does not translate quite as well to the US. US organic food labeling is notoriously difficult and confusing.


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