24 Jun 2022 — A team of biotechnology and blockchain specialists in Greece are using olive oil DNA to generate a fraud-proof genetic barcode for each bottle. With funding from European research and innovation project S3FOOD, the move is expected to minimize food fraud across extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).
The digital tool will safeguard the authenticity and traceability of EVOO from the field. For producers, it means cheaper imitations will no longer undercut the value of high-end products.
Consumers can trust that the EVOO in the bottle lives up to the designation on the label and is safe to consume.
Biodiversity benefits and beyond
As authentic EVOO gains the recognition it deserves, growers will have a greater incentive to protect the biodiversity of olive tree varieties.
Stelios Arhondakis is CEO of BioCoS, which is working with technology partner InTTrust to develop the anti-fraud traceability tool DNAblockchain.
“The high risk of fraud in the olive oil industry is very much related to the product’s economic value, fragmented supply chain and liquid nature. A recent study has found that the value of a premium EVOO may be reduced by 50%,” he says.
Olive oil fraud takes many forms. In 2019, for example, Europol seized 150 metric tons of sunflower oil, which the label claimed to be olive oil. Another case involved 47 millers, two bottlers and traders who sold oil with a fake EVOO Protected Geographical Location (PGI) label.
Traceability from tree to consumer
BioCoS is establishing DNA profiles for specific olive varieties used to produce EVOO to counter the problem. One type – Koroneiki – accounts for around 60% of Greek EVOO production.
An intelligent data processing platform uses DNA data to verify the varietal authenticity of EVOO. This information is then integrated into a blockchain system along with other data, such as quality characteristics, the location of the olive grove and the quantity of EVOO produced.
The whole traceable story will be available to consumers via a QR code on the EVOO bottle.
“Blockchain is already widely used in the olive oil sector to track and trace each lot number from the oil manufacturer to the consumer. However, the limitation of this approach is that it ensures only the traceability of the bottle – not its content.”
“DNA-blockchain bridges this gap, making it impossible to mix olive oil with other varieties or other types of vegetable oil without being discovered. So, if you add 3-5% olive oil from a Greek variety to an Italian product, you would be able to trace it via DNA analysis. That gives complete transparency,” Arhondakis says.
In addition to the benefits for commercial brands and food safety, the DNA data can be used to create a ‘geo-genetic’ map of olive growers producing EVOO. Arhondakis believes this could become an essential resource for future efforts to improve the sustainability of olive cultivation and mitigate climate change risks.
Edited by Elizabeth Green
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