Can food authenticity testing do DIY? A French start-up selling a ‘halal food testing kit’ targeted at Muslim consumers certainly believes so.

For little more than a fiver, it wants to give shoppers the opportunity to take authenticity into their own hands and check any food or cosmetics item for traces of unwanted pork and alcohol. ‘Halal Test’ uses immunochromatography and works in a similar way to a pregnancy test – results are ready within minutes.

The test is currently available only in France, but given the size of the UK’s Muslim population – and the halal scares uncovered here as part of Horsegate – its creators at Capital Biotech are keen to bring it to these shores sooner rather than later.

That such a test could be about to come to market in the UK underscores just how big a challenge authenticity still is for the food industry. Not just in terms of securing supply chains but, crucially, as far as consumer confidence is concerned.

Since the horsemeat scandal, authenticity scares have continued to make headlines, with a broad range of food categories implicated – from Manuka honey to lamb takeaways and, most recently, the discovery of sheep’s milk in some goats’ cheese products. Little wonder many consumers feel nervous about labelling standards – especially if they buy into food categories, like halal, where authenticity and labelling breaches aren’t just a case of being misled or defrauded (bad enough in their own right) but can cause serious emotional distress.

But no matter how appealing the idea of running your own authenticity checks on food might be – and no matter how well-intentioned the creators of Halal Test are – DIY tests are not the answer. I’m not even talking about the practicalities and costs involved in routinely subjecting foods for tests, or the likely accuracy of the results, here – though these are challenging, to say the least. Nor am I talking about the fact that a pork and alcohol test can, of course, only test for that – despite the name, it can’t actually test for whether an animal was slaughtered in accordance with halal rules.

More fundamentally, however, DIY tests wrongly suggest to consumers that technology can help them verify authenticity independent of the supply chain that produced the food. The message appears to be: “Don’t trust retailers or food manufacturers? Cynical about the certification bodies that declared your food halal? Never mind – just run a test and check for yourself.”

This is a mirage. As the companies that were caught up in the horsemeat scandal know all too well, testing technology is only one tool among many in ensuring food is what it says it is. It’s impossible to test everything, and there is no getting away from the need to build strong, trusting supply chain relationships.

The same is true for consumers and the retailers, manufacturers and foodservice outlets they buy their food from. DIY testing kits may seem like they could give consumers new powers in the fight against food fraud, but consumers ultimately need to make a judgement on who they will and won’t trust. That’s a tough call, especially when authenticity scares are in the headlines – but consumers won’t be helped by suggestions technology can help them with that decision.