A Global and Collaborative Partnership to Detect the True Origins of Rice


Kathleen Pinfold

Laboratory Scientist

Introducing Dr Hong Peng

Dr Peng is a Senior Research Manager at the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in Beijing, China. Her work focuses on food integrity to reduce food contamination and ensuring food authenticity, meaning that the product is actually what it says on the label. Verification of food needs rigorous research such as developing robust methodologies using state of the art technologies.

Why is it important to determine the authenticity of rice?

More than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for as much as one fifth of their daily calories, with Asia accounting for 90% of global rice consumption. It is important, therefore, to develop robust methods to ensure rice authenticity, helping to protect the food supply chain while also underscoring our commitment to ensuring safe food for all. In a scandal that emerged in 2010, it was reported that ten times more Wuchang rice was sold than was produced. In rice adulteration, it is common for the authentic rice to be mixed with low grade, low quality rice for economic gain. So detecting questionable rice is imperative from an authenticity perspective to reassure suppliers and consumers. This is why we are part of a global alliance called the Rice Authenticity Consortium.

What is this rice consortium?

The Rice Authenticity Consortium is a collaborative program in which researchers from the Mars GFSC, the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast (IGFS-QUB), Agilent Technologies, and multiple others develop, share, and globally harmonize testing methods used to distinguish authentic rice from fraudulent rice.

We joined together to develop and evaluate a novel two-tiered testing approach. This consisted of a rapid screening method that can be conducted at point of supply, followed by more sophisticated laboratory-based techniques.

As different countries face very different food fraud challenges, tailored solutions conducted at the local level in China, India, Vietnam, and Ghana adapted this fingerprinting toolkit to meet the needs of each specific national challenge. Once fully validated these techniques could be applied in any part of the world where rice is sourced.

So what did the GFSC do? And what did you find out?

The GFSC investigated the differentiation of geographical indication (GI) of popular rice varieties around China. Rice samples were collected directly from suppliers and analyzed using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS). This is a powerful analytical tool which can quantitatively determine concentrations of metal and non-metal elements.

The elemental composition of plants can be affected by soil characteristics and agricultural practices, enabling the use of analytical chemistry techniques to identify geographical origins. By identifying the key elemental markers, we can create a unique ‘fingerprint’ for each variety of rice which is difficult to replicate. We utilized machine learning tools to build a model using authentic, traceable rice varieties directly from the suppliers. Subsequent rice samples can then be analyzed and compared to known compositions in order to verify the origins of the sample.

The ICP-MS method is the Mars GFSC’s first non-targeted fingerprinting method, a capability which can be applied to other key commodities in the Mars supply chain for authenticity verification (i.e. Basmati rice) or to other challenges such as heavy metal contamination (e.g. Arsenic in rice).

What are the future plans and what do you hope to achieve next?

We know we cannot tackle the global problem of rice adulteration alone. This rice authenticity consortium demonstrated the value of global collaboration, and we need to work together to tackle these issues. Through this consortium, we have collectively created a set of analytical solutions that can be tailored for different regions and raw materials. Learn more about this project in our recent Food Safety In-depth Focus article in New Food Magazine

We are constantly working to broaden the toolkit available for food authentication and to inform practical measures designed to help meet the global food fraud challenges, and most importantly, help to ensure safe food for all.