Tests to target cheese-label fraud

1 February 2001

Tests to target cheese-label fraud

By Alistair Driver

UNSCRUPULOUS traders trying to pass off wrongly labelled dairy products could be uncovered by new tests, say food safety watchdogs.

Scientists at the York Central Science laboratory are developing tests to detect where cheese or butter was produced.

The Food Standards Agency hopes this could protect the makers of regional cheeses such as Swaledale, Stilton and Cheddar.

However, agency officials are unable to confirm how accurately the tests will be able pinpoint where dairy products are produced.

Agency food-labelling standards official Mark Woolfe said food-labelling fraud is suspected in the UK, but is difficult to prove without tests.

“The reputation and premium price of some cheeses means the unscrupulous trader may try to pass off an inferior cheese as a premium cheese,” he said.

The York scientists are in the final year of the 1 million, three-year project with scientists from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria.

Dr Woolfe said the tests would be used by local authorities suspicious of fraud. Samples of cheese or butter would be taken off the shelves for analysis.

Findings would be compared with databases of chemicals found naturally in food produced in specific areas, currently being built up by scientists.

If the product labelled Buxton Blue cheese, for example, contained chemicals matching those found in the grass, soil and water of Buxton, it would be deemed genuine.

Tests could distinguish areas as far apart as North Lancashire and the West Country said Dr Woolfe.

But he admitted work was continuing to differentiate produce from regions which were closer together.

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