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Welcome to AgroisoBlog


We aim to educate and enlighten about Stable Isotope Analysis and other counter fraud techniques.


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By Agroisolab, Dec 11 2017 01:20PM

Olive oil production may suffer another set-back due to the steadily-increasing threat of the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria.

As well as contending with a poor harvest due to bad weather, Italian olive farmers in southern Puglia are suffering from the spread of the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria. Spread by insects and movement of infected plants, the bacteria has the power to decimate entire groves of olive trees, and spreads rapidly. For this reason, it is known to some as the ‘Ebola of the olive tree’. Like Ebola, there is no current cure.

The bacteria can lead to many symptoms that lead to the death of the tree, including leaf scorch and dehydration as water vessels are blocked. From October 2013 to April 2015, the disease had affected the whole Province of Lecce and was spreading further through Puglia, and had infected around 1 million trees at the beginning of the year.

It is thought that disease was introduced from endemic Costa Rica, although some olive farmers in Italy either consider the infection as a deliberate attempt by the government and scientists to make money, introduced by multinational corporations to sell pesticides and herbicides, or a problem caused by poor management of trees by large-scale companies – theories that many choose to believe in order to protect their livelihoods against government orders to destroy infected trees.

Between 2014 and 2016, it was determined that since the disease had spread so far north, eradication was no longer possible, and in 2015 a containment area was established in efforts to contain the infection. Several other countries have also detected Xylella since 2015, including France, Spain and Germany, with fears that these outbreaks may affect other olive groves as well as grape vines.

Olive oil producers rely on established groves to sell their high-grade and prized oil. Already known as one of the most adulterated and mislabelled products that can be bought on the shelves, the origin of olive oil carries a lot of weight, like wine. With Xylella’s slow spread upwards through Puglia, and more groves falling to the disease, there is a big concern that some suppliers or producers may adulterate or mislabel their oil in order to fill quotas – or take advantage of the rising prices to make a larger profit by stretching their production. Even with poor harvests, demand for olive oil doesn’t drop.

But how can suppliers protect their consumers from olive oil fraud?

The most common risks in olive oil are origin mislabelling, when suppliers buy in olives from outside countries, and adulteration with lower-grade oils, such as pomace oil. Isotope testing provides a way to distinguish between the countries of origin for olive oil, and also help to identify any dilution of premium oils with lower grade oils, even if they are from the same origin.

Olive oil may also be diluted with non-allowed oils, such as waste oil, mineral oil, or animal feed oil. With authenticity in mind, isotope testing should be able to detect the presence of any dilution through the different isotope signatures, and can then identify whether further investigation is needed.

Agroisolab is pleased to answer any questions that suppliers or consumers may have about olive oil risks and isotope testing. If you would like to know more about the various tests on olive oil that Agroisolab can offer, please visit our olive oil page.

By Agroisolab, Nov 29 2017 11:36AM

The end of the trail for food fraud is the consumer’s shopping basket – or a lab! – but what about the start?

Livestock smuggling is one of the many ways that food fraud can take root. In the UK, sheep are especially targeted for theft – in 2015, 3,091 sheep were stolen at a cost of around £122,000 to farmers. In 2017, by June, the number of sheep stolen reached 2,228.

Many rustled sheep will end up in the illegal meat trade almost immediately after being stolen. As well as the meat coming from unknown sources, welfare and hygiene standards cannot be verified from meat sold illegally. Other sheep may have their identities changed in order to pass them off as coming from a different farm, and then are processed with fraudulent credentials.

In September, a farmer in Cheshire discovered 178 of her pigs had been stolen from her farm. Like the sheep, the pigs are likely to have been sold directly to an illegal meat supplier, or have had their identification removed or altered.

As well as sheep and pigs, a huge number of Northern Irish cattle have been reported as lost or stolen in three years, many from across the border areas. As with sheep rustling, the thefts are thought to be carried out by criminal gangs who then change the identification of the cattle and then smuggle them into factories in the Republic of Ireland. So far, over 10,000 cattle are considered lost or stolen in three years.

Livestock theft is a rural crime that is hard to prevent, since the actual thefts are often carried out at night, and can take place in fields a few miles away from the farms. With many rural police stations closing due to cuts, reporting the crimes is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers.

So far, in terms of traceability, farmers in North Yorkshire are trialling a system that encodes sheep fleeces and coats with thousands of microdots containing forensic evidence on the farm of origin. A database will then broadcast any thefts to auction marts, the police, and abattoirs. However, with the microdots in the coats of the sheep, any sheep that have already been slaughtered and packaged may not be identifiable.

It’s clear that livestock theft needs to be stopped and consumers must be protected against any mislabelled or illegal meat.

Identifying where the meat comes from once the stolen animal has been slaughtered can be a difficult task, and the solution may lie at a chemical level.

Isotope testing compares isotope ratios against a reference database to establish whether or not the meat is from its declared origin. As well as being able to identify country of origin for pork, poultry and beef, Agroisolab is currently interested in expanding its databases in order to offer more localised results should any meat fall under suspicion, or even just for suppliers to verify where their meat is from.

Isotope testing provides a reliable verification method for many products, including organic verification. Agroisolab is happy to offer a deal on one-for-one testing – a free sample tested in exchange for a reference sample. This limited offer is available until the 1st of January, and is available to new customers.

By Agroisolab, Nov 24 2017 02:59PM

Sales of ‘superfoods’ are being bolstered by the increase of health-consciousness in society. Despite some of these foods being on our supermarket shelves for a long time, in the past few years they have experienced a resurgence, with claims of vitamins and antioxidants fuelling demand.

Morrisons supermarket has continued its ‘Wonky’ line by selling blemished pomegranates to keep up with the rise in demand for the fruit. Rich in vitamin C and potassium, pomegranates appeal to the idea of healthy living.

Brazil nuts, a common Christmas treat, are renowned for their high selenium content, a mineral needed for a healthy immune system and prevents cell and nerve damage, and their high monounsaturated fat. However, the harvest for Brazil nuts in 2017, mainly from Bolivia, dropped significantly due to drought across the South America last year caused by the El Niño weather event.

Another fruit suffering from lower harvests and price drops is the widely-exalted blueberry. European wild blueberries prices have risen sharply due to the low harvests, and in the US, price drops for farmers means that the government has had to step in to try and support the sector by purchasing some of the surplus berries in Maine.

Recently, coconuts have come into focus for the health benefits of their oil, butter, and water, but falling production in areas such as the Caribbean, and the rise in demand, means that supply has dropped.

So what are the risks with some of our favourite healthy foods?

Any food market where supply is smaller than demand will run the risk of fraudulent products sneaking into the supply chain. Coconuts can have many different properties – the oil can be used as a cooking aid or a cosmetic product, and their meat is used in many different foods. As such, the potential for fraud is fairly large, consisting of country of origin/Fairtrade sourcing mislabelling, dilution of oil, water and milk, addition of undeclared sweeteners, and organic claims. A NFCU (National Food Crime Unit) investigation this year discovered undeclared added sugars in several different coconut drink products.

Brazil nuts, like other nuts, are at risk of adulteration or mixing with other, cheaper kinds of nut when ground or chopped. Because of the high prices and low supply of this year, it is possible that suppliers may try and stretch their stock by adding other kinds of nuts or substituting organic Brazil nuts for conventional.

Premium products, such as pomegranates and blueberries are also at risk of organic fraud, since the higher prices means that a large profit can be made by passing off conventional products as organic.

What can be done to reduce the risk of fraud in these products?

Traceability in supply chains is essential for food safety. Isotope testing can offer a way to help detect different types of fraud in products where there is suspicion, or if any checks need to be carried out.

Agroisolab is pleased to offer tests for sugar addition in products, organic verification, and country of origin testing on products with an appropriate database.

By Agroisolab, Nov 23 2017 09:38AM

French wine is considered the pinnacle of good taste, Champagne served at elite parties and old reds commanding high prices at the restaurant table, but this prestige also opens it to rife instances of fraudulent activity.

The 2017 French grape harvest is reported to be down following spring frosts, and then drought. Bordeaux in particular is forecast to have losses of around 40% – a low that has not been experienced for decades, following the overall smallest harvest for 30 years in 2016. A chairman of the wine council FranceAgriMer predicted that 2017 could be “the smallest harvest since 1945”.

As well as having a devastating impact on the vineyards themselves, a smaller wine harvest could have serious consequences for the French economy, which exports billions of euros worth of wine every year.

Due to the poor harvest, the vineyards have seen an increase in grape theft, with around seven tons stolen between mid-September and the end of September. 6.5 tones were taken in Génissac, an area that produces wine of the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation. Other thefts have been reported, with some instances of the entire vine being ripped out of the ground. Many of the thefts seem to have been carried out by professionals. Some vineyards in areas like Champagne and Burgundy deployed police forces during the harvest.

From being stolen, the grapes will go straight back into making wine. Origin mislabelling and PDO/PGI fraud is expected to occur in relation to these thefts.

As well as origin and appellation mislabelling, some wine producers and suppliers may attempt to fill quota gaps from the poor harvest by diluting their wine with water or mislabelling lower-quality wines as wines of a lower quality. Such fraud has already been seen this year – a bulk-wine merchant in France was discovered to have been mislabelling around 30 million litres of table wine with higher-quality Rhône appellations (such as Côtes du Rhône) and selling it for a profit.

So how can we be sure that our wine matches the label?

Agroisolab has the largest wine database for stable isotope analysis in the world, where wine isotopes can be compared against reference samples in a reliable method to determine if the wine tested is likely to be from its declared origin.

Stable isotope testing can also determine if a wine has been diluted with water, and also test for the addition of any sugars that may have been added to (chaptalisation).

By Agroisolab, Nov 15 2017 02:23PM

Your organic pineapple may come at a higher cost than just the price.

Organic pineapples exported to the US and some European countries from Costa Rica, a country that produces much of the world's pineapples, may not be organic at all following allegations of fraudulent practices by three companies in Costa Rica.

The companies are alleged to be selling non-organic pineapples as organic, an action that can produce a huge profit (conventional pineapples can yield $7000/ha, while organic can reach as much as $45,000/ha) while misleading consumers.

The Costa Rican government is not being seen as doing enough to combat the fraud that has already cost 500 farmers of organic pineapple their jobs. Far from being the first time that fraud has been alleged, 2014 saw irregular exports of pineapples from Costa Rica, and a 2016 meeting between US authorities and Costa Rican producers highlighted concerns of a possible fraud.

So what is the solution to organic fraud such as this?

With consumers expecting a level of standards in regards to organic produce, and often willing to pay a much higher price at the greengrocers for the opportunity, the importance of organic verification and supply chain diligence carries an impact all the way through from the grower to the supplier and then to the consumers.

Ensuring that there are measurements in place for certifying the organic status of a product, such as isotope testing, means that a supply chain can be strengthened against instances of fraud.

For more information about the testing of organic produce, please contact us.


By Agroisolab, Oct 6 2017 08:53AM

African swine fever virus (ASFV) can spread very rapidly in pig populations
African swine fever virus (ASFV) can spread very rapidly in pig populations

Recent outbreaks of African swine fever in Europe has prompted China to reduce its import quota of European pork due to the threat of the infection spreading throughout China’s own supply chains.

China contains half the world’s pork-producing pigs so the potential of the virus advancing is considered a high risk.

The virus which is found more so in wild boar than in commercial herds can have a devastating impact on the pork industry. African swine fever is a serious, highly contagious, viral disease of pigs. African swine fever virus (ASFV) can spread very rapidly in pig populations by direct or indirect contact. It can persist for long periods in uncooked pig products, facilitating its introduction into new areas.

This virus can also become endemic in feral or wild suids (hooved animals), and transmission cycles between these animals and Ornithodorids ticks can complicate or even prevent eradication. ASFV isolates vary in virulence from highly pathogenic strains that cause near 100% mortality to low–virulence isolates that can be difficult to diagnose. There is no vaccine or treatment.

With such a large customer of European pork, China’s reduction in pork imports means there is a further risk of the surplus pork being mislabelled and re-distributed into the European market place.

When these events occur, whether it be a Disease outbreak, or contamination within a supply chain the 5 main reasons why mislabelling occur are.

• Food fraud / intentional mislabelling for profit

• Weak quality management systems

• Lack of understanding of the supply chain / buying in bulk off a screen

• Products shipped abroad for processing

• Suppliers using ANY means to meet the tough demands of a contract

Agroisolab recommends conducting origin tests for any pork or pig meat products declared as British. For information concerning origin testing for pork please use the link provided to see our current offers

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