New Method Reveals Potato’s Organic Background
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have developed a new approach that helps public agencies and commercial interests combat fraudulently-labeled organic foods. By looking at how organic plants are fertilized, the method provides a deeper, more accurate portrayal of whether eco-labeled produce is indeed organic. According to experts, imported organic fruits and vegetables are susceptible to food fraud. According to researchers, Danish food controls are stringent and Denmark is among the few European countries to have nationally controlled organic foods. However, controls vary in the food exporting nations from which many of the foods are sourced.
“While a major eco-labeling scandal has yet to occur in Denmark, we often forget that our diet is sourced globally, and that our foods are often imported from countries where problems have been documented. For example, in southern Europe, where a large quantity of organic fruits and vegetables are sourced,” according to Assistant Professor Kristian Holst Laursen, who has been developing food fraud detection methods for the past decade.
Laursen heads a research group in the field of plant nutrients and food quality at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. The group has just developed an analytical method that can inform public agencies and importers whether eco-labeled fruits and vegetables are indeed organic.
“Our method can be used to distinguish organic vegetables from conventionally farmed produce, by looking at how plants have been fertilized,” says Laursen.
The new method focuses on the isotope signature in a plant, by isolating sulfate, a chemical compound that can reveal how a particular plant was grown. Humans, animals and plants all have isotope signatures that provide information about the environment in which we live and how we live – diets included, the researchers explain.
The current means of finding out whether an item is organic or not, focuses on identifying pesticide residue. According to Laursen, this method is far from secure. For example, the use of pesticides on a neighboring field, or traces from former conventional production on a now organic field can taint crops. Moreover, the analysis of pesticide residues is unable to reveal whether all of the rules for organic production have been complied with, such as the absence of inorganic fertilizers.
“Our method does not reveal whether pesticides have been used, but whether organic plants have been fertilized correctly. As such, the method complements existing analytical controls and, overall, provides a much more detailed picture of the growing history,” explains Laursen.
The Danish research group is currently working with the local Veterinary and Food Administration and the method is ready for further testing, pending approval and use by public agencies and commercial interests.