Botanists from Basel developed a method to uncover food fraud. They checked and tested the model on a reference data set for strawberries. (Subject picture)
Incorrect information about the geographical origin of food causes economic damage of 30 to 40 billion dollars (around 28 to 37 billion Swiss francs) each year. Because supposed apricots from Switzerland, for example, can be sold more expensive.
In order to uncover the fraud, experts rely on the stable oxygen isotopes in food – the so-called Delta-O-18 value, as they write in the specialist magazine «Scientific Reports». Because temperature, precipitation and evaporation are reflected in this measure, which allows the geographical origin of the food to be determined.
However, because large amounts of reference and comparison data have to be collected for this, this process has so far been time-consuming and costly, as the University of Basel announced on Monday. The Basel botanists have now developed a computer model based on weather data and information on the growth time of a plant, with which they can simulate the oxygen isotope ratio in plants.
According to the researchers, conventional applications of stable isotopes can be simplified, accelerated and improved, and the regions of origin can be precisely and precisely assigned. They put it to the test using an 11-year-old Delta-O-18 reference data set for European strawberries.
“With minor adjustments to the parameters, our model can be used to determine all herbal products,” said the Basel professor and last author of the study, Ansgar Kahmen, in the communication.
According to the University of Basel, the model should not only be used in food forensics, but also support investigative work to determine the origin of confiscated drugs. Nature conservation organizations such as WWF or Greenpeace could also use the model to expose wood from illegal sources. (SDA)