Hi-tech help in identifying pigmeat's country of origin

ONE of the big bugbears of the meat industry has been identifying the country of origin on packs, writes Andrew Arbuckle.

However, this week science has come up with a solution that could shortly move into commercial reality.

The project, which cost 100,000 and has been funded by Quality Meat Scotland and BPEX, the respective Scottish and English red meat promotional bodies, looks set to mean the origin of pork and pigmeat products can be verified by testing.

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"This is a very exciting project for the industry," said Andy McGowan, head of industry development at QMS. "The technology will allow us to give guarantees about country of origin – an important tool to give consumers confidence, given the labelling on imported bacon and pork can, at best, be confusing,"

The project involves measuring naturally occurring isotopes of five common elements found in pork. Key to the technology is the ability to measure the ratio of specific isotopes, which differ in their characteristics throughout the the world.

These differences are reflected in the tissue, depending on where the pig was reared. Water, for example, is made up of the elements hydrogen and oxygen – each of these naturally occurs in two main differing forms, and it is the ratios between these pairs of isotopes that is specific to a particular location.

The technology is used extensively in Germany to authenticate products such as meat or wine.

McGowan said: "The first stage is developing a library of benchmark samples against which other samples can be judged. This is due to be completed shortly, and we will then be a step closer to making this technology available in a form which could be used commercially."