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Confirming the Origin of British Beef Using Multi-isotope and Element Analysis

Institute of Food Research, UK
Start date
End date
This project will build on previous research to determine the origin of beef and extend it to determining the origin of beef in the UK on a country basis.
More information
European beef labelling rules require that retail sales of beef provide information on where the animal is born, reared, slaughtered and cut up into joints. Also UK consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how far it has travelled. Scotch and Welsh beef have protected geographic indication (PGI) status, and Orkney beef is a protected denomination of origin (PDO). In addition, a new quality standard has recently been launched for English beef. Verification of origin of beef is therefore important to protect these UK sources of beef as well as to check the beef labelling rules as regards the origin of beef. This project will build on previous research to determine the origin of beef and extend it to determining the origin of beef in the UK on a country basis.

Research Approach:
Indicators of beef origin used in a previously Agency funded project were found in the biological isotope ratios, which are dependent on feed and water, strontium isotope levels and trace elements linked to the geology of the rocks and soils of the area. For example, the research has shown that British and Brazilian beef can be distinguished using the measurement of 13C, the heavier isotope of carbon, since Brazilian are cattle fed predominantly on maize compared to English cattle raised on semi-intensive pasture and fodder. This project will build up a database of these indicators of origin to distinguish the different UK beef origins and see if there is correlation with geological location or feeding practices. Authentic samples of beef will be collected from abattoirs from England, Scotland and Wales. The analytical methods for extracting and measuring the isotopes will be optimised and standard operating procedures created. Isotopic ratios of biological elements and trace elements will be measured on the protein component of the meat. This data will be statistically analysed to determine which isotopes are indicative of British beef geographical origin and feeding, and if possible whether it is possible to draw up models for the isotopic/trace element specification of beef from different locations.

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the Food Standards Agency Research webpage.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project number
Sanitation and Quality Standards