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Anal Bioanal Chem. 2004 Jan;378(2):301-10. Epub 2003 Nov 22.

Stable isotope variation as a tool to trace the authenticity of beef.

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Research Center Jülich, Helmholtz Gesellschaft, 52428 Jülich, Germany.


Organic beef coming principally from Germany was analysed for the hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotopic composition to test the possibility of tracing back the geographical origin. Since there is a well-known pattern of D/H and 18O/16O in meteoric water and in ground water, there is an existing link to tissue water in the beef. By including the stable isotope ratios of the other elements of life further information is available: soils show different isotope ratios of 15N/14N and 34S/32S depending on the geological composition, cultivation and atmospheric sulfur deposition. As organic farming is mainly obliged to use only their produced fodder, that ratio is reflected in the beef as well. Different organic beef samples from various German farms have been collected and analysed over nearly two years. To check the differentiation of foreign beef, samples from Argentina and Chile were also included in the study. The analyses of meat samples indicate that it is possible to trace back the region (e.g. Argentina and Germany) by using isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen. A local geographical differentiation can be done by using the stable isotopes of nitrogen and sulfur, as was demonstrated for three farms in Colonia Bay. An optimal differentiation also depends on the quality of further information (e.g. the season, kind of cattle breeding or the declaration of the local geographical origin). Certainly authenticity of beef is not only linked with the geographical origin but can also reflect the differentiation of organic and conventional farming. The fodder of organic cattle farming consists mainly of C3 plants and the use of C4 plants is more usual in conventional cattle farming. A 13C/12C ratio above -20 per thousand appears as a limit for organic farming. Increased values have to be controlled based on their authenticity.

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