The scientist who has found a way to prove where false milk products come from does not want his work commercialised – even though the industry is clamouring for it.
New Zealand exports about $2 billion worth of milk products to China each year and an increase in imitation milk products there has hurt the New Zealand brand.
BGNS Science isotope geochemist Troy Baisden says he can read milk products’ geographical identification by testing milk powder against maps of climate signatures that will prove where the product is from.
The scientist hopes that, if overseas authorities work together and share data, producers of fake milk powder worldwide can be stopped.
Mr Baisden says while current food authentication services test a product as it leaves New Zealand and then again at the product’s destination, the new method eliminates the need to test twice.
Instead, authorities can identify a fake imported product and also find out where it came from.
“We’d like to help authorities follow up on their own intuition when a really good fake is out there.”
Rather than commercialise the test, Mr Baisden says he would prefer to work with authorities to eliminate fakess rather than charge New Zealand companies to authenticate their products.
“A reasonable view is that it’s a tax other people have to pay to verify the products we produce.”
But certifying company Oritain science liaison Rebecca McLeod says while that is a nice idea, most milk product companies cannot afford to wait for the science to develop.
“The implications of getting in tangled up in a food scare with counterfeit products is pretty horrendous.
“We have people from different industries who want to authenticate now. They don’t have time for governments to get together and make stuff work. They don’t want to wait five or 10 years for other work to develop.”
Ms McLeod says while it could be an informative tool, it needs development.
“For that approach to work you need to develop global maps. That’s a lot of work.”
Otago University associate professor Russell Frew says as well as infant formula, butter and cheese could be ideal applications for the technique.
“We can also apply this science to other important problems, such as where insects and other biological material breaching New Zealand’s biosecurity have come from.”