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“IsoPROTECT Austria” - A pilot project for the large-scale implementation of research for the protection of regional foodstuffs in Austria

Protection of domestic foodstuffs against counterfeiting by means of the element and isotope fingerprint

IsoPROTECT Austria generally stands for examination and protection of the origin and authenticity of foodstuffs in Austria by means of analytical methods with a focus on the multi-element and isotope fingerprint. In this context unique chemical fingerprints in foodstuffs and soil from different Austrian regions are systematically used for an unambiguous identification of origin. In the VIRIS laboratory (Department of Chemistry, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) headed by Thomas Prohaska approaches and methods have been developed that use the regional differences in the chemical signature in soil and water. The emphasis is on the different proportions of the element concentrations and the isotope ratio of the naturally occurring element strontium.

The Sparkling Science project "CSI: TRACE your FOOD!"

Within the framework of the Sparkling Science project “CSI: TRACE your FOOD!” (duration Oct. 1st, 2014 – June 30th, 2017) – under the leadership of Andreas Zitek and in collaboration with ten schools – the chemical correlations between soil and water and vegetables and fish, respectively all over Austria were investigated at the VIRIS laboratory. They form the basis for successful mapping of foodstuffs in geographical regions.

Identification of origin goes Citizen Science – the Top Citizen Science project “IsoPROTECT Austria”

In order to expand the data set systematically and especially to expand the knowledge about the chemical composition of soils to other regions the Sparkling Science project was expanded by the Top Citizen Science (TCS) project “IsoPROTECT Austria: Protection of regional food production in Austria by means of isotope and multi-element fingerprints” (duration: July 1st, 2016 – Dec. 31st, 2017). The main aim of this project is to expand the data set systematically in order to create an isotope map of Austria, which will serve to prove the origin of domestic regionally produced plant-based foods and fish. In order to achieve this a good coverage of the most important cultivation regions and fish farming regions in Austria is important. Thus farmers and food producers as well as interested citizens can take part in “IsoPROTECT Austria”. They will collect soil and water samples and enter the related areal basic information (coordinates, soil type, location, farming practice, photos, etc.) in applications on mobile phones, tablets or computers. Subsequently the samples will be sent to the participating schools. From there, after preparation of the samples (e.g. sifting of the soils) and collection of primary parameters and their digital entry in online forms, they will be sent to the VIRIS laboratory where they will be analysed by means of inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) for the element pattern and the strontium isotopy.

Citizen Science at the new K1 centre “FFoQSI”

The newly established K1 centre “FFoQSI“ (“Feed and Food Quality, Safety and Innovation”) is now adopting the approach developed in the two projects in a central strategic area for the “identification of the origin and authenticity of food and feed”. Thomas Prohaska and Andreas Zitek are continuing to work on completing the soil and water isotope map of Austria and on investigating the correlation between soil and water and the relevant foodstuffs in the “FFoQSI” project. Eventually a comprehensive statistical online attribution tool via a web platform is to enable a quick check of the origin by means of a regional attribution. Based on this comprehensive approach regional indications of the origin of foodstuffs can be checked in a much better way and much more quickly than before and thus regional producers in Austria can be protected better from systematic fakes and the resulting loss of earnings.

In order to guarantee the practical and legal relevance of the results both the Sparkling Science and the TCS project have been carried out in cooperation with the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security (AGES), which is also a partner in the “FFoQSI” project.

 

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