2nd April 2010

Isotope Technology Behind Pig Meat Origin Test

A £100,000 BPEX research project, supported by QMS, has developed technology which looks set to mean the origin of pork and pig meat products can be verified by testing.

This exciting project - which could be used for products including bacon and ham - is nearing the stage of becoming a commercial reality.

The science at the heart of the project involves measuring the naturally occurring isotopes of five common elements found in pork. Key to the technology is the ability to measure the ratio of specific isotopes which differ very slightly in their characteristics in different geographic regions throughout the UK and the world.

These differences are reflected in the tissue of pig meat depending on where the pig was reared. The elements tested are those found in all living tissues. Water, for example, is made up of the elements hydrogen and oxygen - each of these elements naturally occurs in two main differing forms and it is the ratios between these pairs of isotopes that is specific to a particular location and gives each piece of pork a characteristic signature.

These isotopes are stable and not radioactive. Those of interest are hydrogen (hydrogen and deuterium), oxygen (oxygen-16 and oxygen-18), carbon (carbon-12 and carbon-13), nitrogen (nitrogen-14 and nitrogen-15) and sulphur (sulphur-32 and sulphur-34).

“This is a very exciting project for the industry. The technology will allow us to give guarantees about country of origin - an important tool to give consumers confidence given the labelling on imported bacon and pork can, at best, be extremely confusing,” said Andy McGowan, Head of Industry Development, Quality Meat Scotland.

“The first stage is developing a library of benchmark samples against which other samples can be judged. This is due to be completed shortly and we will then be a step closer to making this technology available in a form which could be used commercially,” said Mr McGowan.

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