Free-range and Organic Testing

Using expert knowledge to interpret the consistency of food's environmental fingerprint with claimed production method.

The manner in which plants or animals are produced leads to an environmental fingerprint. In animals, this is linked to the feed and water they consume. Free-range, corn-fed and organic production systems deliver subtle difference in the profiles. These can be used, through expert interpretation, to check for consistency with the claims made.

Organic Testing
Organic farming is a whole system (holistic) way of producing food. To produce certified organic foods requires a different approach to farming inputs. Validation of organic has traditionally been reliant on paper traceability and records combined with audits. But there are a range of UKAS accredited tests that can support and validate this traceability. 

Why is it important to business?
Organic foods command a price premium, this opens this sector to the risk of fraud. Product substitution and dilution are a risk, in addition, there is the potential for fraud in the inputs used on the crops – such as fertilizers and sprays. It is critical for business brand protection and integrity that they are able to demonstrate compliance with the organic standards and validate paper traceability though the use of targeted testing. In addition, proactive sampling combined with strategic testing optimises deterrence throughout the supply chain.

Pesticide residue testing gives information about sprays and crop treatment, GMO testing provides information about the seeds used, Isotope testing provides information on the fertilizers used.

The Foods We Test
Most produce is suitable for organic testing focusing on the nitrogen isotopic signature. Particularly crops such as vegetables and salad crop with fast growth and high fertigation. Crops with a long growing period (>4 months), combined with early fertigation may be less suited to this testing. For some of these (such as cereals) we are able to offer testing across a wider range of isotopes for signatures associated with organic production techniques. 

Testing of meat for consistency with organic farming depends on the species and the production methods used, these are often combined with other analytical techniques such as fatty acid composition or other key stable isotopes to provide the discrimination required between organic and conventional production. We have testing for consistency with organic for milk, eggs, poultry, beef as examples. Contact us for any specific requests.

How can we support?
We can help you determine the optimum testing approach for you depending in the outcomes you are looking to achieve.

If you are looking to achieve deterrence within your supply chain the approach to testing will be different to if you are demonstrating due diligence or looking to detect a problem.

Whatever outcome you are looking to achieve we are happy to support you in establishing what to test and when. Not only that, we then provide interpretation support and can support follow up investigations as required to help you achieve the outcome you are looking for.


Is organic testing proof of organic?
No. Organic production is a holistic system. It includes cropping rotations, stocking levels, as well as restrictions on which sprays, fertilizers and even seeds that you can use. Isotope testing checks for consistency with profiles expected from organic farming. It needs to be combined with complementary testing and paper traceability to demonstrate proof of organic production.

Why does organic testing not work with all crops?
Some crops with longer intervals between fertigation and harvest or those with low levels of fertilizers applied may not demonstrate the differences between production systems in the final crops. A few specialist crops grown in “bog” conditions (such as cranberries) demonstrate a negative nitrogen isotopic composition and as such this test is unsuitable for these products.

Do you need a reference database of organic products to test against?
While reference databases are ideal as they allow us to perform a more sensitive test, where authentic reference datasets are unavailable, we can use published values or threshold profiles as an alternative. Feel free to discuss your requirements with us and we can help guide the most appropriate solution.

Why can you not test consistency with organic for all meats?
The isotopic profile of meat comes from a combination of water and food consumed. Where there are limited differences in the isotopic composition of the feed then the difference in meat may be too small to detect. Where there are significant differences in the feed materials used (such as increased use of fishmeal to achieve the high-quality protein required in poultry feeds) these differences can be detected in the meat. We do have a test for milk that combines fatty acids profiles with isotopic composition and compares these against an expected profile; ask us if there is a commodity you are interested in, we will always help if we can.

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