The organic sector will soon have a reliable means of identifying conventionally produced food that is fraudulently claimed to be ‘organic’.

Last week, an EU-wide project was launched to tackle the growing problem of organic food fraud.

“We want to provide the sector with a tool so they can protect their products from being adulterated or mislabelled,” said Professor Søren Husted of the University of Copenhagen, co-ordinator of the Authentic Food study.

“We know fraud is happening across the food sector and the risk is there for the organic sector because organic products are sold at a premium. This is about being able to answer the question of whether fraud is happening.”

Over the next three years, scientists from 12 EU countries will analyse wheat, durum wheat, raw tomatoes and processed tomato sauce to develop methods of detecting differences in the chemical composition of organic and conventionally produced foods.

The study will use three techniques - stable isotope mass spectrometry to determine whether the source of nitrogen in food is synthetic or organic analysis of molecules known as metabolites, which vary depending on production processes and analysis of pesticide residues.

“We are confident that we will be able to tell the difference between organic and conventionally produced food,” said Professor Husted. “We have 16 partners from 12 different countries.”

Among the scientists involved in the project is Dr Simon Kelly, an expert in stable isotope mass spectrometry at Defra’s Food & Environment Research Agency. “At the moment we’re in the database-building phase,” he said.

“There’s never been something like this specifically targeting organic food. There is absolutely no doubt that by looking at stable isotopes you can get some insight into the methods used in producing food.”