The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) findings show that there are detectable differences in the cells of organic and non-organic carrots.
The research showed that plants grown organically are exposed to more environmental stress than those treated with pesticides, and this exposure results in protective substances building up in the plant’s cells.
These substances, known as metabolites, can be detected by methods such as mass spectrometry, in a field known as metabolomics. Metabolomics in food is gaining traction, but the researchers say that using it for “food authentication issues is still at an early stage” and that more studies with larger sets of data are needed to make the process more robust.
Rooting out fraud
The origin of samples can be predicted with this method, and it is the first long-term study of its kind.
In 2014, the total value of the EU organic retail market was worth €24bn. Organics make up a small proportion of cultivated land, and since customers are willing to pay more for them, non-organics have the potential to be falsely advertised as organic.
Such fraudulent behaviours have the potential to “negatively impact” on organic’s reputation, said the JRC.
This isn’t the first such project to fight back against fraud. Earlier this year, the EU launched an electronic tracking system to improve the traceability of organic products. It also serves to collect more data on the organic trade.