Smart SA: New DNA tracking to protect South Australia’s clean, green produce from food fraud

ADELAIDE breakthroughs in DNA tracking are set to protect the state’s clean, green and premium produce as food fraud gouges an estimated $54 billion from the global food industry.

The state-of-the-art DNA tracking invented at Adelaide University has the potential to protect SA branding from a surging number of high-value food, fibre and plant oil products being replaced or mixed with lower-grade imitations.

University food innovation director Professor Andy Lowe said discussions were already under way with the olive oil, seafood, pork and poultry industries on ways to use the world-leading technology.

“I presented at a conference in Canberra a few weeks ago and was approached by some people from the seafood sector,” Prof Lowe said.

“The key aspect for them is seafood being mis-sold overseas.

We have beautiful, clean water around here.

“The produce is relatively free from a range of contaminants and other problems — that really gains premium markets, particularly in high-end Asia.”

The DNA work is being generated by a crack team based in the university’s school of biological sciences, which first developed highly successful DNA tracing of wood products to help authorities monitor and police illegal logging.

Prof Lowe said there were ample opportunities to sell the expertise globally, with the new capability about a year away from being marketable — good news for producers wanting to support their claims that they supply premium produce, along with processors and importers unsure of the legitimacy of premium-origin claims.

“Different plant species are easily distinguished by the naked eye when you have leaves, flowers or fruit, but when plant products are ground up these features disappear,” Prof Lowe said.

“In these cases, DNA sequencing can be used to deliver species and even region-of-origin confirmation.”

The methods, where the team can now analyse hundreds of DNA samples at a time, can also be applied to traditional Chinese medicines, oils and nutritional and dietary supplements.

Companies in Singapore, Germany, the United States and two in Western Australia have approached the team about potential partnerships, and Prof Lowe said there had already been a number of collaborations with Chinese universities and companies.

In Chinese medicine, it was important to establish provenance. Prof Lowe said work had been done with an anti-tumour medical product using a plant from Shanxi province which had been shown to be effective.

“We are still developing the DNA test, particularly in the food space, but clearly the opportunity in that space is massive,” he said.

“It’s of great interest to law enforcement and regulatory authorities keen to identify and dissuade fraud.”

Belinda Willis

SA’s southern bluefin tuna industry has received a 9 per cent increase in quota.
Camera IconSA’s southern bluefin tuna industry has received a 9 per cent increase in quota.Picture: News Limited

Fishermen set to haul in large catch

THE state’s $400 million southern bluefin tuna industry is preparing to haul in an even more lucrative catch this season, receiving a 9 per cent increase in quota.

The quota of 6165 tonnes is the highest in 27 years, showing signs that fish stocks have recovered beyond expectations and demonstrating renewed confidence in Port Lincoln’s fishing industry.

The Eyre Peninsula city is the global centre of tuna aquaculture, employing 4000 people and exporting $160 million of the highly prized fish to major markets, such as Japan.

Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association chief executive Brian Jeffriess expected the state’s largest aquaculture sector to grow further given the latest quota increase.

“For an industry that has been hammered from pillar to post and had its sustainability at risk, this is the increase the people and the Eyre Peninsula region needed,” Mr Jeffriess said.

“It reassures the financial institutions of the long-term strength of the industry, because when you invest in this industry, you’re investing for 20 years minimum.

“It’s difficult to justify those investments when there’s a threat to the quota, but now that’s gone we should see more outside investors coming in.”

Mr Jeffriess said export markets were opening up in China and Korea, providing the industry with a positive outlook.

It’s a much more optimistic outlook than I’ve seen in the last 20 years.

He said the world tuna industry would now look to Port Lincoln for the next major development in technology to improve farming practices.

The industry’s next main focus was on fish husbandry, he said. The mortality rate in farms was below 1 per cent and the aim now was to make the fish grow faster.

Fishermen will take to the seas to catch the tuna from December, with the fish grown for a further three to six months before considered big enough for sale.

The South Australia Sardine Fishery, at Port Lincoln, is instrumental to the tuna harvest, with most of its fish used to feed the masses.

The sardine factory is Australia’s largest fishery with an annual quota of 34,000 tonnes, helping again to cement Port Lincoln’s reputation as a leader in aquaculture.

While tuna generates the highest farmgate sales in the aquaculture industry, oysters and finfish are the next most valuable to the industry.

South Australia provides 55 per cent of the nation’s Pacific oysters each year, with the industry worth about $37 million to the state.

Erin Jones

A new app has been created to allow livestock owners to register their brands.
Camera IconA new app has been created to allow livestock owners to register their brands.Picture: istock

Putting stock in new app

AN innovative new app for livestock owners to register their brands is gradually gaining traction as South Australia leads the way in tracing its animals.

Brands or ear tags to identify stock such as sheep, horses and cattle were previously recorded in books, with an astounding 60,000 registered brands on file before the State Government repealed the Brands Act 1993 last year.

The new app, which can also be used on desktop computers, means farmers can photograph or describe a brand signifying who the animal belongs to, then register it through the system.

Livestock SA chief executive Andrew Curtis, who helped to develop the digital solution SA Brands with PIRSA, said between 100 and 150 farmers had registered since its launch a few months ago.

“It will improve tracking of stray livestock because people can report stock that are lost through the app and also stock that has been found,” Mr Curtis said.

The app was developed by Livestock SA and the State Government, which have been working on a new online system for producers to register brands and earmarks since the act was repealed. Brands no longer need to be registered with Primary Industries and Regions SA.

Mr Curtis said Livestock SA was also talking with the SA Police’s Operation Poach group about how they could use the program to help track animals. It would also help with livestock disease surveillance and in emergencies such as bushfires, he said.

“At the moment we are working with the developers to iron out a few glitches and we will give it another promotion in the new year,” he said.

There were about 3500 SA members of Livestock SA and it was hoped they would all log into the system.

“Brand registrations used to be stored in dusty old books — but now South Australia’s livestock producers can register and manage their brands via this brilliant, Australian-first Brands App, which is simple to use and effective for stock management,” Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Leon Bignell said.

“The app will make a big difference to livestock producers, particularly as a tool to report and assist in tracking down lost or stolen livestock.”

The app can be downloaded on iPhone and Android phones and can be used on desktop computers or laptops.

Belinda Willis

A pilot study could lead to a national scheme to support the marketability of Australian extra-virgin olive oil. Picture: Andy Rogers
Camera IconA pilot study could lead to a national scheme to support the marketability of Australian extra-virgin olive oil. Picture: Andy RogersPicture: News Corp Australia

Keeping olive oil real

OLIVE growers are refining new provenance branding to market their products, with South Australian researchers leading the way.

Dr Richard Gawel, from SA, is working with more than 100 members of Olives South Australia and the Queensland Olive Council to investigate a product designation of origin (PDO) system for Australian extra-virgin olive oils.

The group has commissioned research to sample olives to create regional palate profiles.

The success of this pilot study involving South Australian and Queensland olive growers could lead to a national scheme to support the marketability of Australian extra-virgin olive oil both on the domestic and international stages.

“Regionality and differences in production practice across regions is also likely to extend to differences in their health-giving components such as polyphenols and squalene,” Dr Gawel, the scientific collaborator on the project, said.

“Squalene in particular is becoming a rock star in the health world, with some Japanese buyers insisting on minimum levels of this rare antioxidant found only in extra-virgin olive oil and, surprisingly, shark livers.

“Pure squalene is also used in exclusive cosmetics and skin formulations. Understanding how regionality affects these components will be valuable to Australian growers.”

Queensland Olive Council chief executive Amanda Bailey said provenance underpins food authenticity and puts consumers and growers together.

“It shows how flavour, taste and health benefits relate to consumers’ need,” she said.

“We estimate 85 per cent of Australian extra-virgin olive oils are made from olives grown in a single grove that has been maintained by the owner who cares.”

Production was trending upwards in both states, as trees planted up to 16 years ago were now maturing, she said. Growers hope the PDO would help with sales of this increased volume of product.

“And examining the different components of our oils could see premium pricing for some of our products,” Ms Bailey said.

The work was being assisted by almost $67,000 from the national Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration pilot program, known as Farming Together, a $13.8 million initiative.

Belinda Willis

The South Australian Research and Development Institute is breeding oyster spat resistant to Pacific oyster mortality syndrome. Picture: Jonathan Van Der Knaap/SATC
Camera IconThe South Australian Research and Development Institute is breeding oyster spat resistant to Pacific oyster mortality syndrome. Picture: Jonathan Van Der Knaap/SATCPicture: Supplied

Breeding for the future

SOUTH Australian researchers are breeding disease-resistant oysters in a bid to secure the future of the $37 million industry, which is in the midst of an 18-month shortage.

The South Australian Research and Development Institute is breeding oyster spat resistant to Pacific oyster mortality syndrome, which decimated the Tasmanian oyster industry last year.

The state’s oyster farmers had received most of their spat from Tasmania, but since the outbreak the borders have been closed, resulting in an oyster shortage until mid-2019.

SARDI Aquatic Sciences Research chief Gavin Begg said the research project was one of many the institute was undertaking to help the aquaculture industry stay at the forefront of innovation.

Right through our history we’ve been involved in aquaculture and we recognise it’s an important industry to the state.

“Our research started with the tuna industry, but now we cover a range of projects including working with kingfish — which is one of our large-scale projects with 24 dedicated tanks.

“The tanks are full of hundreds of kingfish where we’re looking at their growth, performance and trialling different diets.”

For the first time in four years, SARDI’s aquatic division will open its doors to the public on November 19 to give people a chance to see the science in action.

People can learn more about the aquaculture programs, tour the purpose-built marine and freshwater facility, explore live fish displays and examine tanks, research vessels and equipment.

Representatives from the fishing and aquaculture industries, including Clean Seas Tuna, will also offer tastings of their products.

The open day is at 2 Hamra Ave, West Beach, on November 19, from 10am-4pm.

Entry is free and food and drinks are available.

Erin Jones

Kinkawooka mussels growing in Boston Bay, Port Lincoln.
Camera IconKinkawooka mussels growing in Boston Bay, Port Lincoln.Picture: News Limited

SA company flexes its mussels

THE nation’s leading provider of blue mussels is taking on cheap international imports with its latest product, which is expected to propel the South Australian company into the future.

For the past 12 months, Kinkawooka Shellfish, based on the Eyre Peninsula, has worked to get its bags of cooked mussels onto Woolworths supermarket shelves across the country.

The lucrative deal is a “game changer” for the company, which produces 2000 tonnes of shellfish a year but has an ability to grow its farm production to more than 2500 tonnes.

The company last year merged with South Australian Seafoods to become Eyre Peninsula Seafoods, but kept the Kinkawooka Shellfish brand.

The cooked-in-the-bag mussels are really starting to take off for us and make us competitive on an international scale.

“The cooking process gives the mussels a nine-month shelf-life, opening up an ability to get our product out to a bigger customer base domestically and to the rest of the world.” executive director Andrew Puglisi said.

Mr Puglisi believes the company’s future expansion will be based on the product’s success, but he envisages more jobs will be created in coming years.

“There’s plenty of water available if we want to grow to produce 4000 to 5000 tonnes a year — a direction we’d like to take the company, eventually,” he said.

Kinkawooka’s cultured mussels are rope-grown in the cold, nutrient-rich water of the Southern Ocean at Boston Bay, near Port Lincoln.

Eyre Peninsula Seafoods last week received a $500,000 State Government grant to establish a wet-store holding facility — the first in Australia — to allow for greater production.

The facility will be able to hold up to 40 tonnes of fresh and live mussels for weeks if needed, ensuring there is no wastage.

The new equipment will allow the company to explore export markets in the US and Canada, as it helps it meet international standards.

The company expects to increase production by the middle of next year, adding an extra 14 jobs to its workforce of 32.

Erin Jones

SMART STATE SPECIAL REPORTS

#1: The visitor economy: Bringing SA to the world

#2: Defence: The $90bn boost that will transform SA

#3: Innovation: Tonsley, a playground for creative thinkers

#4: Agriculture/aquaculture: DNA tracking protects our produce



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