Oct 14

A history of butter fraud – but how far does it spread?

Butter is without any question the most counterfeited food. This was the opening sentence at the symposium in Brussels in 1888 and while butter may not be the most counterfeited food today, the authenticity and quality of butters and margarines on sale today still come into question.

buttered toastBack in the late 1800s, analytical chemists and control authorities were concerned that chalk and potato starch was used to bulk out butter, increasing the quantity and boosting profits for the seller. After margarine appeared on the market, sellers would also try to sell margarine as if it was butter as well as mixing much cheaper margarine into the butter.

There’s no doubt that the safety of our food supply has greatly improved over the last century, but food fraud involving cases of dilution, substitution and mislabelling continue to persist within the global food industry.

This became apparent when we organised training for expert witnesses giving evidence in food prosecutions and the adulteration of butter and dairy products was a popular topic for discussion.

In 2000, the European Anti-fraud Office (Olaf) snared a sophisticated criminal operation to adulterate butter orchestrated by a Mafia gang in Italy. The gang used 5 000 tonnes of substances of beef tallow and vegetable material and 400 tonnes of synthetic, laboratory-produced substances in the manufacture of a total of 16,000 tonnes of finished product, which was falsely declared as butter. This adulterated butter was used for the production of foodstuffs, butter and concentrated butter, which sold for more than 45 million Euros.

Food crime by organised criminals was something raised by Professor Chris Elliott in his recent review into the ‘Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks’. While he acknowledged that the recommendations he makes in the report “will not stop food crime” he states that they are “intended to make it much more difficult for criminals to operate in the UK”.

It is also one of the motives behind regulations for more stringent labelling of our food (The Food Information Regulations 2014), which will come into force in December 2014. One of the requirements under this new legislation is that the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ used in the labelling of food containing oil blends must be replaced by the name of the oil.

In light of these changes, Michael Walker, from the Government Chemist programme, and two co-authors set out to review the history of butter and margarine adulteration in two countries that differed in their food law and examined modern methods of testing the authenticity of butter. The result is a fascinating trip through chemical and food history and a revelation of the lengths that fraudsters can go to in the 21st century.

Did you know, for example, that we unearthed reports of synthetic triacylglycerols being used to adulterate butterfat, a practice only detectable by sophisticated Carbon 13 magnetic resonance spectroscopy?

Find out more about the science of food fraud at our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.

Oct 03

Rapid rise in workplace drugs testing

The BBC today have said that workplace drug testing has increased significantly in the UK. In an article, which featured LGC, the BBC claimed that the rise in the number of annual tests carried out by drugs screening companies is between 40 and 470%. LGC has seen a 100% increase in the number of annual tests carried out over the last four years.

Lianne Gray, LGC’s strategic account manager for occupational drug testing, said employees in safety-critical roles – such as operating heavy machinery or driving – and government agenciedrugs_white_powder_cocaine_iStock_000000917323Mediums were most likely to be screened.

She also explained that there was a growing trend for drug testing to be conducted in “more normalised industries”, including retail and health companies, as businesses look to “safeguard not only the business, but also the reputation in the field they work in”.

Ms Gray said there had been changes in the types of drugs for which businesses wished to screen.

“Traditionally we see requests for amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis, opiates,” she said. “Now we’re seeing more requests for things like ketamine, steroids, and also for novel psychoactive substances – or legal highs as they’re otherwise known.”

Alcohol and drugs abuse in the workplace is a growing problem that disrupts teamwork, reduces productivity, damages customer relationships and, ultimately, shrinks profits. It also poses a real risk to the health and safety of fellow workers, and to the individuals responsible.

LGC offers a complete service for pre-employment, random and ‘for cause’ workplace screening, with expert interpretation and the ability to find and associate other important factors to substantiate positive results. Our standards are extremely high and all our laboratory systems and procedures and workplace screening kits comply with UK Guidelines for legally defensible workplace drug testing.

If you missed LGC on the BBC this morning, make sure you listen to catch up on Radio 4. Mention of LGC can be found 2 hours and 6 minutes.


Aug 28

You’re invited to LGC’s end of summer barbecue!

As we near the last couple of weeks of summer, you may heating up your barbecue whilst enjoying the last few rays of sun.

But do you know how safe the food is you’re eating, and do you know what’s really on the menu?

LGC offersred beef meat on wooden plate an unmatched range of standards and proficiency testing schemes, from pharmaceutical & forensics, to food, industrial and environmental. This is why thousands of laboratories around the world chose us as their partner to provide high quality reference materials.

We also play a role in the fight against food fraud. LGC provides a low cost multi speciation service for raw and processed meats and meat products so that you know what’s in your burgers.

Find out more about how LGC helps to make summer safer.



Aug 18

LGC scientists attend ‘deeply moving’ Fromelles memorial ceremony

The Battle for Fromelles took place on July 19 1916. It resulted in the death of 4000 British and commonwealth soldiers and has consequently become known as the worst 24 hours in Australian history. Since 2009, LGC scientists have worked alongside the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Oxford Archaeology to identify the fallen soldiers. So far, 144 soldiers have been identified. In July, I travelled to Fromelles alongside LGC scientists who had worked on the Fromelles project – James Walker, Victoria Moore and Daniel Moore – for a ceremony to mark the 98th anniversary of the battle.

The memorial service was extremely moving. It was attended by veterans from France, Britain and Australia, who opened the ceremony with a military procession. Representatives from the French government, the British Foreign Office and the Australian army then spoke very movingly about the battle and the men who lost their lives in it. The ceremony was concluded by children from the local primary school placing flowers on the graves of each of the soldiers that had been recently identified as the soldiers’ names were read out. This was incredibly moving and left very few dry eyes.

Victoria explained that, “it was so emotional to hear the names being called out. It becomes more than just a story, it really hit home what we had done and what it meant to their families.”

fromelles 3

James Walker, Daniel Moore and Victoria Moore at Fromelles cemetery.

After the ceremony, living relatives of the recently identified soldiers, many of whom had travelled from Australia, visited the graves of their ancestors. Each person who attended the ceremony was given a small wooden cross to place on the grave of a soldier.

We were very privileged to have the opportunity to meet the families and see the graves of soldiers that LGC has identified. James described it as a day of remembrance:

“Remembering the five years we at LGC have been involved in Fromelles: highs and lows; remembering attending the first year commemoration of the new Commonwealth War Grave at Fromelles (which took place in 2010); and finally sharing in the memories of the 20 families that have had their never forgotten dead heroes finally named on headstones in a very pretty and peaceful cemetery.”

The ceremony was followed by drinks and brioche at the local primary school, which has been renamed Cobber School, after the Australian troops who lost their lives in Fromelles. At the school we had the opportunity to talk to relatives of Fromelles soldiers. We met a man whose great uncle had been remembered during the service. He had travelled from Adelaide for the ceremony and explained that it meant a great deal to him to see his relative, who he’d heard about all his life, be laid to rest with dignity.

To end the day, we visited the Museum of the Battle of Fromelles, which provided information on the work that went into the Fromelles project and on the identification of the soldiers. The museum also had mock trenches and artefacts from the graves to show what life would have been like there during the war. Finally, the museum displayed information about and photos of all the soldiers that had been identified. This further drove home the human element of this remarkable project.

Overall, we all had a interesting and rather emotional day. It was really moving to see the impact of LGC’s work in this incredible project. This was made particularly clear when speaking to relatives of soldiers and visiting the graves of soldiers LGC has helped to identify.

A video about the Fromelles project, including footage of our recent trip will be available soon so make sure you keep an eye on our YouTube channel. For more photos of our trip, have a look at our Facebook page.

Article by Emma Swaden, Communications Assistant at LGC.

Jul 17

Why are reporting guidelines so essential?

We’ve all probably heard the Chinese proverb that it’s not the destination that is important but the journey. Well the same can be said of scientific research: it’s not only the results that matter but the methodology and processes that lead us to them.

Scientist carries out analysis on genetically modified organism using polymerase chain reaction (PCR)OK, so this may be a little facetious but the concept is not and it’s the reason why guidelines for the reporting of scientific experiments have been emerging over the past decade across scientific disciplines – including the Minimum Information for Publication of Quantitative Real-Time PCR Experiments (MIQE) guidelines.

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a technique widely used in molecular biology to identify and quantify DNA. PCR works by targeted amplification of DNA by several orders of magnitude to enable identification and measurement of specific sequences. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), also called real-time polymerase chain reaction, is a laboratory technique based on the PCR, which is used to amplify and simultaneously quantify a targeted DNA molecule.

In order to encourage increased transparency in reported data, the MIQE guidelines were developed and published in 2009. But why is this so important and, five years later, what impact have the guidelines had?

The peer review process for publishing scientific studies relies on the ability of scientists to review the work of others. If they don’t have all of the facts as to how an experiment was carried out, they cannot adequately evaluate the technical standard or results and determine whether a result may be biased or whether differences are due to technical variation. It also means that it is difficult for another scientist to repeat the study or to further develop the research, ultimately hindering the impact that work may have on, for example, understanding the pathology of a given disease.

A team of LGC scientists collaborated on a study evaluating the quality of scientific publications concerned with the measurement of RNA and DNA by qPCR following the introduction of the MIQE guidelines to see if reporting standards had improved. They found that although there have been some advances, even those papers that cite the MIQE guidelines do not always contain all essential technical information.

With reporting guidelines so important to the evaluation of research and the development of further studies, LGC scientists also collaborated on guidance aimed at improving the quality of molecular measurements and led the development of guidelines on the publication of quantitative digital PCR (dPCR) experiments.

dPCR is an extension of conventional PCR methods that allows for very precise quantification of DNA and absolute, rather than the conventional relative, quantification. dPCR has greater sensitivity for differentiating small variations in DNA levels between samples. This has applications in clinical diagnostics for the identification and quantification of rare genetic mutations. dPCR also has the potential to be more reproducible and less susceptible to experimental interferences than current quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) techniques.

The applications of PCR are widespread including, for example, diagnosis of pathogens, facilitating DNA sequencing for identification of genetic disorders or the detection of genetically modified food products and the implications of failing to adhere to reporting guidelines are vast.

Not only could research resources be wasted at a time when they are increasingly scarce but it also has implications for drug development and disease monitoring.

With so much at stake and with the credibility of their research on the line, why do so many scientists not follow these simple guidelines?

To find out more read “Standardising measurement in molecular biology” on page 4 of the latest issue of Catalyst newsletter.

Jul 10

Allergic reactions: a serious consequence of food fraud

LGC now offers the first peanut allergen quality control (QC) materials that have been prepared in the same way as oral food challenge materials used to diagnose peanut allergies. LGC’s new QC reference materials, developed in conjunction with The University of Manchester, can now address difficulties such as ensuring sufficient homogeneity and long term stability, assessing the amount of allergen present (the incurred quantity), and maintaining a relationship with the concentrations that affect allergy sufferers.

Allergic reactions can be a very serious consequence of food fraud, as individuals are unaware that they are consuming something they know they can’t eat. In 2011, Trading Standards Officers in Cumbria bought chicken tikka masala from two restaurants and were assured that peanuts had not been used in either dish. Tests proved both meals contained peanuts. The investigation led back to one of the country’s biggest Indian food suppliers, Euro Foods, which was fined £18,000 including legal costs after being found guilty of food adulteration by substituting peanuts for the more expensive almonds when they supplied the catering trade. This adulteration could have had life threatening consequences for consumers with peanut allergies.nuts

The issue of food fraud appears to be becoming increasingly serious. In 2007 the Food Standards Agency set up a fraud database. That year, it received 49 reports of food fraud, where as in 2013 it received 1538 reports of food fraud. This is indicative of both an increase in food fraud and an increased awareness of the issue. In 2012, it was estimated that the economic adulteration and counterfeiting of the global food source costs the industry $10 to $15 billion per year.

This year’s budget cuts to food safety could increase the amount of food fraud in the UK. Trading standards could have just 1900 officers by next year, compared to the 3000, who were in service in 2009. The number of public health laboratories, where food is tested, has reduced from 15 to 11 in just three years. Reductions in trading standards officers and public health laboratories could make it far easier for counterfeit food and drink products to permeate British markets.

LGC continues to tackle food fraud across the UK. LGC is home to the Government Chemist, whose role is to provide an independent voice and expert opinion based on sound analytical measurement science to help avoid or resolve disputes pertaining to food and agriculture in order to protect the public. The Government Chemist function has been in place since 1842 and its practical methods of measurement and sound analysis are still relied upon today to solve complex food cases. Today, the duties of the Government Chemist focus on public protection, safety, health, value for money and consumer choice.

Tackling food fraud is essential in ensuring people with allergies can eat safely and without fear to enhance their quality of life. LGC’s fight against food fraud embodies its vision of using science for a safer world.

Jul 07

National Transplant Week: the science that saves lives

National Transplant Week begins in earnest today with charities across the UK campaigning to encourage people to register as organ donors, tackling the ‘I’ll do it later’ mind-set.

National Transplant Week 2014 logoThere are thousands of people waiting for a life-saving transplant but on average, three people die every day because there are not enough organs available. These numbers are expected to rise due to an ageing population and an increase in illnesses such as kidney failure, leading to national campaigns to increase the numbers of people registered as organ donors.

But it’s not just organ donation that is vital to saving lives. Patients who receive an organ transplant must take immunosuppressant drugs (ISD) to prevent organ rejection; without them, their organ will fail and they could die. Careful monitoring is important to balance the therapeutic effect of the drugs and the occurrence of adverse side effects, such as enhanced risk for developing cancer, diabetes mellitus or hypertension, which could prove fatal.

The clinical chemistry behind therapeutic drug monitoring is an area that would benefit from further standardisation and this is a major focus of work at LGC.

Accurate measurement of patient drug levels presents a major challenge for clinical laboratories and the diagnostics industry. Immunosuppressant drugs have a narrow therapeutic range and significant inter-individual variability in blood concentrations making it difficult to determine optimum doses. It is also critical that measurements made in different locations can be compared, for example if a patient has measurements made in different hospitals.

It is therefore essential that certified reference materials (a reference material with a value certified as traceable to internationally recognised units and with a stated uncertainty) are available for manufacturers to establish the traceability of values assigned to calibrators supplied with diagnostic equipment, and for medical and clinical laboratories to validate their methods.

Scientists from the Science and Innovation Division have made significant progress over recent years to develop CRMs and Reference Measurement Procedures (RMPs), which are required to enable In Vitro Diagnostic (IVD) kit manufacturers and hospital laboratories to fully assess method accuracy and achieve measurement traceability.

Individual patients respond differently to different treatments and many ISDs have side effects. It is therefore very important for healthcare professionals to be able to monitor how a patient is responding to a drug and to get the dosage correct, and at the lowest possible level.

Standardisation of ISDs will also enable medical researchers to combine data from independent clinical trials with greater confidence and subsequently provide greater accuracy in the determination of optimal ISD dosing protocols. Clinicians will have greater confidence in lowering doses of ISD, which will reduce the cost of medication and improve patient welfare through reduction of the many adverse side effects. Standardisation will also result in improved routine therapeutic drug monitoring, which could potentially lead to longer transplanted organ survival rates – reducing the need for a new organ for re-transplantation.

So far, LGC scientists have produced a matrix certified reference material of tacrolimus in whole blood, which has been approved for sale and is being used by IVD kit manufacturers and hospital laboratories in the monitoring of ISDs. Both matrix materials and pure materials for Tacrolimus and Sirolimus are under development.

To find out more about the work that LGC is doing on the standardisation of therapeutic drug monitoring, in its role as the designated UK National Measurement Institute for chemical and bioanalytical measurement, visit the National Measurement System Chemical and Biological Metrology Website.

National Transplant Week 2014 is taking place from 7 – 13 July

Jul 04

The science of going for gold

In the highly competitive field of elite sport, it is not just a mix of athleticism, grit and determination that leads to success and a coveted gold medal. Athletes and their coaches regularly turn to science to help them assess physiological status and wellbeing in an attempt to optimise any competitive advantage.

cycling_racingStress biomarkers, such as cortisol, are often used to monitor the effectiveness of an athlete’s training regime. Raised levels of cortisol is known to have a catabolic (muscle breakdown) effect on tissue with associated decrease in anabolic (muscle growth) hormones and suppressed immune function.

Levels of cortisol change quickly following exercise and so need to be monitored locally to see if an athlete needs to be rested or whether they can train further or harder. A coach will be keen not to over train an athlete, as chronic elevated cortisol level causes the body to enter a state of constant muscle breakdown with increasing risk of injury and susceptibility to viruses.

LGC scientists are developing new assays for use with transportable platform technology that will enable coaches and athletes to get the data they need at the trackside. Not only have they simplified the total cortisol assay for whole blood as well as serum, but they have also developed a direct assay for the detection of the biologically active “free” cortisol within serum. The information that this provides will lead to further optimisation of an athlete’s training regime and could mean the difference between a gold or a silver medal.

Existing testing for the biologically active cortisol levels is a lengthy process (taking 1-2 days). Testing is carried out in a laboratory involving multiple steps, is costly and, due to the process involved, could potentially bias the results. Current saliva-based tests have also been criticised due to their lack of suitable robustness. The new method that LGC is developing uses blood taken from an athlete via a pin prick to the finger (capillary blood).

The team have devised robust assays for biomarkers, using certified reference materials and a transportable platform technology that offers direct detection of the target analytes. These assays are now under trial with a group of athletes at Loughborough University.

The project is funded by the National Measurement System Innovation, Research and Development Programme and the English Institute of Sport and has involved collaborations with a number of other sporting bodies including the British Olympic Association and Rugby Football Union.

The LGC science team is aiming to further increase the utility of these assays without compromising robustness, with the ultimate goal of offering coaches across a range of sports, and health professionals more generally, point of use test kits that offer health benefits.

Jun 11

Get ready for the LGC PT World Cup


PT world cup


In preparation for the 2014 World Cup, we have created the LGC Proficiency Testing (PT) World Cup.  In the PT World Cup, the countries playing in the FIFA World Cup compete with one another based on how many laboratories that participate in our proficiency testing schemes they each have.

We have mapped out how the World Cup will look if it was a competition of the participation in our PT schemes and we will be tweeting these results throughout the tournament.

Make sure you follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with how your team progresses!

May 20

World Metrology Day – why measurement matters

Today is World Metrology Day – a day to celebrate the science of measurement and the signing of the Metre Convention on 20 May 1875. The Convention set the framework for global collaboration in the science of measurement and in its industrial, commercial and societal application. Without accurate and reliable measurement, you wouldn’t know how much fuel you have put in your car, you wouldn’t be able to measure ingredients to bake a cake and you wouldn’t know how safe your food, water, medicines and beauty products are.

Petrol pumpAs the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bioanalytical measurement, LGC is joining the celebrations for World Metrology Day, which this year highlights “Measurements and the global energy challenge”.

Biofuels have long been heralded as an answer to the global energy challenge. However debate around competition for land use between first generation biofuels (conventional crops) and food and feed production is long standing, and a clear indicator of the need for sustainability of new energy sources. Development of methods for the determination of the geographical and biological origin of biofuels is therefore important for ensuring both sustainability and commercial aspects of biofuels.

Building on previously developed isotope ratio measurement capability, LGC has participated in a project to evaluate the feasibility of using carbon, oxygen and hydrogen isotope ratio measurements as a tool for determining the source and origin of biofuels.

But it is not just through our work with biofuels that LGC is aiding modern society. Our research spans across the environmental, clinical, pharmaceutical, food, and chemical sectors and underpins some of the most challenging chemical, physical and biological measurements important to UK regulation, industrial competitiveness, and quality of life.

For example, our recent research has played a key role in developing the underpinning metrology which supports testing strategies in the regenerative medicine area through the development of measurement methodologies required to characterise products, and through the production of documentary standards.

Our scientists have developed a new method for the characterisation of titanium dioxide particles in sunscreens, which involves the development of an improved extraction method for nanoparticle isolation. It is essential that sunscreens – and all other nanoproducts – are safe at all stages of their life-cycle and that the public and the environment are adequately protected from any adverse effects.

The importance of the mineral selenium to human health has become increasingly recognised in recent years, and studies suggest that fortified foods can offer potential health benefits. However, there is a fine balance between toxic and beneficial effects of selenium. LGC researchers have used their expertise in selenium analysis to develop a range of reference materials to ensure food and supplement manufacturers can verify the composition and safety of their products.

With more than 50 research projects currently underway, LGC is at the leading edge of science and innovation that has far reaching benefits to everybody – something that certainly deserves celebrating on World Metrology Day!

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