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New Test May Detect Organic Food Fraud: Is Your Produce Really Organic?

First Posted: Aug 27, 2014 10:19 AM EDT

Is that organic apple you're buying actually organic? More and more people are willing to shell out more money for fruits, vegetables and other foods that are labeled as "organic." But can the label be trusted? Scientists have taken a look at both conventional and organic tomatoes in order to devise a new way to make sure that farms are labeling their produce appropriately.

Organic food is turning into big business. In fact, its global market value nearly tripled between 2002 and 2011, when it reached $62.8 billion. Yet because organic food can fetch prices that are often twice as high as conveniently produced food, the risk for fraudulent labeling is high.

Unfortunately, finding out whether a fruit or vegetable is organic or not is hard to determine. Currently, the most reliable authentication method analyzes the stable isotope composition of nitrogen; yet even this isn't fool-proof. That's why scientists decided to see if they could design another method to detect false organic labels.

In this case, they employed a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. This method has been used to authenticate foods that include both honey and olive oil. In this case, the scientists analyzed tomatoes grown in greenhouses and outdoors, with conventional or organic fertilizers. In this case, the researchers found that their data would tell the difference between organic and conventional produce to some extent.

The findings reveal a potential new way to tell whether or not produce is organic. That said, the test is only a starting point. Researchers caution that the test will have to be refined in order to root out fraudulently labeled foods. That said, the research does highlight the importance of having these tests in the first place, especially as organic food fraud continues to grow with rising prices.

The findings are published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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