Test Reveals Whether Vegetables Are Really Organic

A New Zealand scientist has reportedly developed a test to detect foul play in the organic food industry. The isotope test looks at base elements in vegetables, and shows whether they were raised with organic manure or industrial fertilizer, reports the New Zealand Web site, stuff.co.

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All organic materials contain isotopes such as carbon and nitrogen. If these can be studied using mass spectrometers, all sorts of things can be learned. And unlike tests for pesticide residue, the results cannot be fudged with a bit of soap and water. “It should stop people being fobbed off by someone else’s half-baked organic vegetables,” says the scientist who developed the test, senior researcher Karyne Rogers from GNS Science.

As vegetables grow, they take on nitrogen from fertilizer. The signatures from manure and industrial fertilizer are different. The test is expected to be used by organic vegetable suppliers. Rogers says it is cheap, shows results within 10 days and can be done at any stage of growth. The test could also determine whether vegetables were grown hydroponically or in soil. The test works best on fast-growing plants such as vegetables, and not so well on slow-growing ones, such as fruits.