British egg producers are building an extensive database to help identify imported eggs fraudulently being sold as British.

Scientists at Longhand Isotopes will start mapping the ‘isotopic fingerprint’ of eggs provided by members of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) from January.

Longhand has already built a database for pork, working with Bpex. And earlier this year its tests revealed there was a less than 1% chance that a Tesco ‘British’ pork chop - supplied by Cranswick, whose records indicated the pork came from supplier FA Gill - actually came from a British farm.

With 1,200 egg samples from Continental egg producers already in its database, Longhand now hopes to boost its stock of British egg isotope results through BFREPA, which has over 600 members.

“This work will provide the means for British egg producers to have their brand protected from imported eggs being passed off as British,” said Longhand MD, Roger Young.

As well as testing whether an egg is British or not, Longhand will also be able to test whether it is organic, because of the different feed used for organically reared hens. It will also be able to test the provenance of processed products where the egg can be separated from other parts of the product, such as a Scotch egg.

Longhand eventually hopes to identify egg provenance at British county level. “It is to achieve this location accuracy that we want to have the wider producer database,” added Young.

Egg fraud has proved to be big business in the past. In 2010, egg supplier Keith Owen was jailed for passing off battery eggs, imported from Ireland and France, as free-range, British or organic, making £3m from the fraud. Longhand is not able to establish whether an egg is free-range or not through isotope testing but the BFREPA members’ eggs will provide a reference point for British and organic eggs, Young added.