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The differences between organic and customary egg

Close examinations of the composition of egg yolk reveal the distinctions between egg production systems. This enables Wageningen Food Safety Research to establish whether eggs are or are not organic.

Although organic eggs are more expensive than free range eggs and barn eggs, they do actually not look any different. For this reason, Wageningen Food Safety Research developed a method to verify that eggs are justifiably labelled as 'organic eggs'. The clue lies in the egg's 'fingerprint'. Compounds in the egg yolk betray eggs laid by hens that did not receive organic feed.

Method: Egg yolk's fingerprint

Wageningen Food Safety Research's fingerprint for egg yolk is based on the yellow pigments in the yolk, the carotenoids. Research has revealed that the variations in these fingerprints are sufficient to make a clear distinction between organic and regular eggs. The fingerprints are determined using a separation technique referred to as 'high-pressure liquid chromatography', or HPLC. The current database contains data for eggs from seventy-five organic egg producers (more than half of the organic egg producers in the Netherlands) and around seventy-five producers of other types of eggs, including free range eggs, barn eggs and eggs from caged hens.

Also suitable for other products

The principle employed in this method can also be used for similar purposes with other products. The first results from methods used to identify organic milk, organic ham, PDO (protected designation of origin) cheeses, and the geographical origins of butter and olive oil have already been published and/or presented.

Researchers are currently working on the further development of these methods for use with other products, including the identification of organic animal feed, the distinction between wild caught fish and farmed fish, and the identification of sustainably produced palm oil.

Our research is focused on the issues that make companies vulnerable to food fraud and on the development of analytical methods to establish the authenticity of products. These methods are based on the latest techniques and can be used both in the laboratory and in the field. Our ultimate objective is reliable food, because no one wants to be cheated – and certainly not with their food.
Saskia van Ruth, Professor of Food Authenticity and Integrity, Wageningen Food Safety Research, part of Wageningen UR

Researching food authenticy by Wageningen Food Safety Research

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Saskia van Ruth, professor food authenticity

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