Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

British Beef Origin Project (BBOP) - FA0205

The European compulsory beef labelling legislation means that there is a requirement for enforcement bodies, such as Customs and Trading Standards, to have access to reliable analytical methods that can be used to verify origin labels on beef, whether they are part of the Protected Food Names Scheme, subsidy claims or simply ‘suspect’ imported produce. The project aimed to provide a method to identify the geographical origin of British Beef, using multivariate stable isotope and trace element (SITE) analysis.

The methods for beef provenance determination used in this project were based on measurements of stable isotopes of hydrogen (2H/1H), carbon (13C/12C), nitrogen (15N/14N), sulphur (34S/32S) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr). Element profiling was also completed on the authentic beef samples using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), which permits a large range of macro (including Al, Ca, Mg, P, Na and K), micro (e.g. Mn, Fe, Co,
Ni, Cu and Zn) and trace (e.g. Sr, Mo, Cd, Pb and the lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium) elements and their isotopes to be determined simultaneously. This strategy was implemented following previous research that has shown the combination of multi-element data with multivariate statistics to be a powerful technique for the source discrimination of a range of food products.

The BBOP builds on previous FSA-funded 'GEOBEEF' project to distinguish between beef imported from Europe and third countries. The results are published in a peer review journal (Heaton, K., Kelly, S.D., Hoogewerff, J. & Woolfe, M. (2008). Verifying the geographical origin of beef: The application of multi-element isotope and trace element analysis. Food Chemistry, 107(1), 506-515). The project was also linked to a much broader investigation of the isotopic composition and origin of food products in Europe called TRACE – Traceability of food commodities in Europe ( The activities of UK partners in this project were co-funded by the FSA.
The main objective of this research was to apply isotopic and elemental analyses, in combination with statistical processing, to distinguish the origin of beef meat from cattle reared in England, Scotland and Wales. In this respect, the findings in this report demonstrate that it is possible with a high degree of certainty to determine the origin of British beef.

Standard operating procedures have been produced for the evaluation of authentic British beef for hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and strontium isotope ratio measurements, and multivariate analysis of authentic British beef elemental and stable isotope data.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : Q01123 British Beef Origin Project Technical Report COMPLETE FINAL   (5791k)
• SUP - Supplementary Report : SOP - Determination of 2H and 18O in bulk organic material   (380k)
• TRP - Technical Report : SOP - Determination of 13C and 15N in bulk organic material   (245k)
• TRP - Technical Report : SOP - Determination of 34S in bulk material   (138k)
• TRP - Technical Report : SOP - Determination of strontium isotope ratios in beef   (25k)
• TRP - Technical Report : SOP - TE profiling method   (34k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2010

Contractor / Funded Organisations