Remember how your honey is likely fake? And your olive oil, too? Until recently, testing these fake foods for authenticity was a lengthy process requiring lots of laboratory work, so it was rarely done.
Now a laser designed for use on Mars promises to make testing the authenticity of these foods a breeze. I don’t know about you, but I am utterly thrilled by this judicious application of science and technology! The laser was designed to look for trace amounts of gas in very small particles, to help catalog and identify the origin of the molecule. On Mars, the laser is used to identify whether or not methane particles had a bacterial origin. This would prove that there had been life on Mars!
So how does this laser prove that a food is a counterfeit of the real deal?
Ars Technica reports:
The same tool can be used to scan the carbon dioxide released from burning a few milligrams of honey to see whether it is a cheap substitute or not. Weidmann explains: “You take a food sample — a few milligrams of olive oil, chocolate, wheat or whatever — and you burn. As the sample burns, it releases carbon dioxide you test with the laser instrument.”
RAL Space has teamed up with UK company Protium MS to develop a small portable device that can be used to probe for counterfeit foods — not just honey, but also olive oil and chocolate. This will provide a carbon isotope fingerprint that shows the product’s provenance. “You will know, in the case of olive oil, if it genuinely comes from Sicily or if it is a counterfeited fake,” adds Weidmann.
David Bell, director of Protium, explains that honey is a “classic example” because “it’s an expensive product to buy, but you can create a counterfeit product that looks very similar using sugar instead of bees.” Laser analysis of this sort can match the honey to the flowers of a specific geographic region.
Bell believes that, as lasers become smaller and lighter, this mechanism will be used more in the future to test food health and safety. “The tests can help identify the geographical origin of food products and identify counterfeits with high accuracy,” Bell concludes.
While I’d much rather personally know the farmer, rancher, or artisan who raised, grew, or crafted my food, I am intrigued by a device that can help us know the origin of commercial foods with certainty.
In the very least, it promises to help curb the rampant abuse within our industrial food supply — so long as its use is adopted.
What do you think?
I believe that the more disclosure there is within our food supply, the better. However, I don’t want to burden our farmers with anything akin to the National Animal Identification System. Technology like this Mars laser may be just the thing to help us identify the origin and authenticity of our food, yet do it without a radically increased labor cost and mountains of paperwork.
On the other hand, the pessimist hiding inside me worries that, like any new technology, industrious minds will figure out how to abuse whatever new system forms around it.
What are your thoughts?
(photo by botheredbybees)
Nana Whyte says
Very interesting and sorta scary! I find myself reading, reading, reading….labels, articles, research! It shouldn’t be this hard…but we all need to be aware. I mentioned you and your good work in my own blog today. See what you think.
I wish they could make a fake milk that I like in my tea and coffee so a lot of us could save cows and calves from the torture of dairy farming
First, thanks for your comment, although I feel it’s a little misplaced here. What does it have to do with a laser that detects counterfeit foods?
I’d like to take a moment to ask you to read my comment policy so you can be clear about what is and is not an appropriate commentary on posts.
Second, may I point you to these healthy milk substitutes with recipes so you can make them at home?
I think you’re being a bit hard on Wendy. I just read your comment policy, and while her response is somewhat off topic (it does still relate to food and food origins), it doesn’t appear to violate the policy you linked to. I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all but hey, it’s your blog, your rules.
I didn’t say it violated my comment policy, only that it seemed a little misplaced (which the policy addresses by asking that comments stay on topic).
I think that Wendy’s comment was as well a little misplaced. When one starts to eat “alternatively” we start to realize the value in the amazing alternative milk’s such as nut milks, coconut milk and seed milks.
These are just as satisfying and ultimately more nutrient dense.
After 7 years being dairy free (due to a severe casein allergy) I find that cow’s milk taste’s sour and spoiled. I long for the clean rich flavor of these nut/seed and coconut milks.
Once your taste buds adjust to the new flavors, you won’t go back.
here is an article about a co-op that uses FBI and CIA forensics tests to ensure that their produce is organic:
I agree, Wendy’s comment was kinda spaced-out. They actually do make fake milk and lots of fake everything, which I think was the point of your eye opening post. So what exactly, was her point?
I’ve always wanted to be able to put the food we eat through lab testing just to see what we’re actually eating. Have you ever really looked at the meat on a Subway sandwich? Nasty. Pure nasty. What is it? Who knows? This laser would really come in handy. I just wish all of us could afford one and we would be able to show our friends and family that we really care about what they are really eating. Some of the things I personally eat that I once thought were healthy probably aren’t either. The people feeding us lies need to be held accountable and one day we will have a cheaper way other than this laser and extensive lab testing to prove they are lying to us all for profit. I’m sick of it. Sick of seeing people get sick and die from junk food.
Unfortunately, any detection technology that evolves and becomes pervasive will be accompanied by equally effective methods to avoid detection. It’s never-ending. If, when you buy your food, you aren’t looking the producer in the eyes, you have no neck to squeeze when the product turns up tainted or counterfeit. Greed slips into the space between you and the actual source of supply; the more we buy driven by convenience, the bigger that space becomes. A classic example is the petition before the FDA by the milk producers to “redefine” milk to allow the addition of (artificial) sweeteners… WITHOUT listing these additives on the label. Are these ingredients being added to make the milk more wholesome? Of course not. They’re being added to induce children to drink more milk. Only a few thousand will go to the Federal Register and comment about how outraged they are by this petition… but how many will stop to think about why the FDA would even entertain such an idea? We pay the FDA to ensure that our food supply is wholesome. They are our “detectors”. We pay them. We rely on them. They fail. Seems to me it’s our move.
I think laser testing like this is a great tool that should be in the hands of PRIVATE industry, consumer watchdog and certifying organizations, but definitely NOT in the hands of government regulators.
Wendy, milking animals does not cause them to be tortured. Only buying milk from a store causes that. Go to http://www.real milk.org to find a source of milk in your area (milk, as opposed to watered-down, grain-fed, cooked “milk” sold at Jewel). You could also try sheeps’ milk, which is unlikely to be mass-produced, or goats’ milk, which is the same as long as it’s not Meyenberg. Also look from cows’ milk from Kalona or Army’s Kitchen, which is fully real milk except that it is slightly cooked in order to be legal to sell in stores. Be sure to buy the whole milk as 2% has had part removed and anything else is also watered down. If you don’t live in an apartment you could also buy a goat.
R., Cloutier says
Thank you, thank you, thank you !