VIENNA, Austria, Wednesday May 22, 2019 – The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has launched a five-year research project that will assist countries in combatting fraud in high-value food products, such as premium honey, coffee and speciality rice varieties.
And Jamaica is the only Caribbean country included in project, carried out in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which will refine methods to apply nuclear-derived techniques to test for accuracy in food labels. The others are China, Costa Rica, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, New Zealand, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand and Uruguay.
“Numerous foods are sold at premium prices because of specific production methods, or geographical origins,” said project coordinator and IAEA food safety specialist Simon Kelly. “In order to protect consumers from fraud, and potential unintended food safety issues, we need standardized methods to confirm that the product has the characteristics that are claimed on the label.”
The project will help countries apply stable isotope techniques to protect and promote foods with added-value, such as organic food or products with specific geographical origins like Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. The method works by looking at the ratio of stable isotopes in elements – such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon – and the concentration of elements in a sample of the product. These can provide a unique fingerprint that links a crop to the place where it is cultivated.
Prized for its aroma and low-acidity, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is among the world’s most expensive, making it prone to counterfeiting.
“It is really important for us to protect our coffee,” said Leslie Ann Hoo Fung, a researcher at the International Centre for Environment and Nuclear Sciences in Kingston, Jamaica. “We want to apply nuclear techniques to differentiate Blue Mountain from High Mountain coffee, for example, as they command different price points.”
Jamaica also wants to look at the applicability of the technique to other premium national commodities, such as cocoa and rum.
The IAEA said fraud is a growing problem in the food industry, affecting countries globally and hurting exports. The research project will help developing countries increase compliance with regulatory requirements, thus facilitating trade.
The research project started with a kick-off meeting last week and will run for five years.