Research report

​Beef Origin Project II – Improvement of the British Beef Isotope Landscape Map (Isoscape) for Scotland and Northern Ireland

11 documents for this subject


Scotland and Northern Ireland


James Donarski, Katharina Heinrich

The project was based on the concept that information on the geographical origin of a sample can be obtained through the analysis of the stable isotopic composition of that sample, which can then be linked to the environment where it was grown/reared.

A stable isotope map of beef cattle from the United Kingdom has been previously reported, which was able to provide some discrimination between Scotch and non-Scotch beef. This present project has augmented that initial data with further stable isotope measurements, taken from Scottish and Northern Irish beef (in total 299 beef samples), to improve the coverage of the stable isotope map and to assess seasonal influences on that map.

The effect of seasonality for carbon and hydrogen isotopes was demonstrated to be minor in relation to the natural variation of the samples.

Using this increased dataset, an internet based web-tool has been generated, which is able to take a stable isotope profile from a beef sample and predict, with known confidence, whether the measured isotope profile is consistent with any UK 2-letter postcode region.

The web-tool was tested using stable isotope profiles from a limited number of non-UK samples from Ireland, Germany, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Using the current web-tool, an Irish beef sample could not be differentiated from Scotch beef, a German beef sample could be differentiated from parts of Scotland; whereas the web-tool successfully differentiated Brazilian, Australian and New Zealand samples from Scotch beef. Considering that the majority of global production of beef is from the Americas (45% of Global production, 2013, FAOSTAT) the current web-tool can offer significant protection from the mis-labelling of beef as Scotch.

Currently, the isotope tool is not able to reliably differentiate Scotch beef from specific parts of the UK, this is due to the limited variation associated with the isotopic signatures between these regions of the UK. Further discrimination may be possible, through the use of multiple sampling (analysis of several separate samples from a single specific location), although this aspect requires further research to fully characterise what increase in discrimination this would achieve.

Recommended future work is to apply the web-tool for the analysis of Scotch beef to identify potential fraudulent claims. The experimental design of such a survey should be considered carefully to maximise the ability to detect fraudulent samples. It should also include known authentic Scotch beef and known authentic non-Scotch beef. This will ensure that the tool remains fit for purpose and will determine the power of the tool to differentiate Scotch beef from other beef on a global scale. For example, further analysis of samples from the Americas, Asia and from different European locations is recommended.

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