Seafood industry to utilise new technology in fight against food fraud – ABC News

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The seafood industry is hoping world-first technology will protect them against food fraud.

An X-ray fluorescence machine will use elemental fingerprinting to ensure boxes marked as Australian product do not contain cheaper and counterfeited product from overseas.

This testing looks at the elements of a species — where the elements from one region will differ from the elements of another determining where it comes from.

Different fish species will have certain elements, such as the water or environment they have come from, that can allow researchers to identify their region of origin.

The Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO) will run the project, which is part of the first round of the Federal Government’s Traceability Grants Program.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said there are some fraudulent parties that mislabel produce as Australian products.

“This could lead to devastating impacts on Australian seafood’s good reputation and consumption if people lose faith in our products,” he said.

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Jonno Duniam, agreed and said the development of this world-first technology will be a breakthrough for Australian fishers.

“We have to go great lengths to protect our well-known brand, but the sad reality is around the world there are people who have decided that for their own benefit they would imitate Australian product and pass it off as Australian, when in fact it is not,” he said.

A scientist is in a lab using an x-ray machine.
A portable X-ray fluorescence machine will be used by ANSTO to determine the provenance of seafood.(Supplied: ANSTO)

Australian products to benchmark testing

The project will begin with a small number of seafood varieties harvested from across Australia and sold in the Sydney Fish Market.

The testing of these Australian products will be used as a benchmark for future testing.

Supply and business development manager at the Sydney Fish Market, Erik Poole, said any kind of technology that can make purchasing Australian seafood easier for consumers will be welcomed.

“I have nothing against imported products, it is just that I believe that consumers should have a choice and the right to make an informed decision.

“We just want transparency to ensure there is a level playing field for Australian producers and hopefully this technology could help with that.”

A man and a lady holding two trays of seafood in a fish and chip shop
Andrew and Renae Tobin are fish retailers in Townsville, Queensland.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Acknowledge Australian sustainability

Queensland fisherman Andrew Tobin runs a seafood retail and wholesale business, supplying inland north and central parts of the state.

He said while the move to the X-ray product, to ensure provenance was timely, industry needed more government support.

“A lot of Australians want to support local primary producers, local fishermen,” he said.

“It is common knowledge that Australian seafood is one of the better seafood products that can be sourced globally, but the cost of production of that seafood is actually quite high.”

Mr Tobin said proving provenance would become increasingly important as an issue as food security and safety concerns increase worldwide.

“Food fraud is a big issue in seafood, innovations like this are definitely welcomed by Australian wild-catch fishermen,” he said.

‘Our regulation is seen as heavy-handed’

But Mr Tobin said that government could ease regulatory pressure to reduce the cost of seafood passed onto consumers.

“We are at a point when the cost of production is getting too high, our regulation in wild-catch fisheries is seen by some as heavy-handed,” he said.

“At the same time that these initiatives happen, it’d be great to see some reflection on the way these fisheries are managed.”

Interim CEO of Seafood Industry Australia, Veronica Papacosta, agreed, explaining they are continuing to safeguard the industry against fraudulent origin claims.

“Transparency of origin is of crucial importance to the Australian seafood industry and for this technology to be effective domestically we believe there needs to be a step taken backwards to ensure mandatory origin labelling is legislated at all points of sale,” she said.

“Internationally, this technology will present a great opportunity to protect the Australian seafood brand and we look forward to finding out more about the technology.”

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