The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA announced that they are to undertake a study aimed at exploring mobile tools to combat food fraud and contamination. Food fraud and contamination is emerging as another form of counterfeiting or falsification of products posing serious public health threats and loss of billions of dollars globally.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that they are to undertake a study aimed at exploring mobile tools to combat food fraud and contamination.
Food fraud and contamination is emerging as another form of counterfeiting or falsification of products posing serious public health threats and loss of billions of dollars globally.
The United States-based Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that food fraud costs the global food industry between 10 billion and 15 billion US Dollars every year, affecting around 10 per cent of all commercially-sold food products.
Uganda relies on traditional, professional laboratories to detect different types of fraud and contamination in food but the technology can only be found in Kampala and a few private labs.
One of the major challenges is that available technology for testing food fraud is not portable.
Germany is funding the possibility of using hand-held portable nuclear technology devices in Austria, Belgium, China, India, Malaysia, Morocco, Russian Federation, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Sweden, United Kingdom, Uganda and the United States.
Simon Kelly, a Food Safety Specialist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, hopes that initiative will fill the gap that has existed before.
"The goal is to make available low-cost devices and methods for food authorities to use directly in the streets and markets, particularly in developing countries," he said.
The project seeks to build on the opportunities created by advances in field-deployable analytical equipment, such as adapting spectrometry - a nuclear-based technology used by border police agencies to detect illicit drugs and explosives - to perform point-of-use screening tests to check for adulterants and contaminants in food.
"The development of high performance hand-held computing devices, such as smart phones, has enabled a new generation of instruments that can be used outside the traditional laboratory environment," added Iain Darby, head of the IAEA's Nuclear Science and Instrumentation Laboratory.
Uganda has of recent been faced with reported cases of food adulteration in commodities like sugar and powdered milk among others. There have also been cases of relabeling packed food items that have expired.
The project will also develop methods to use such hand-held devices to test food authenticity given that labels and paperwork - which countries often depend on - can be easily forged.
Portable tools and standard operating procedures will allow authorities to respond faster at critical checkpoints, and protect the food supply chain from being inundated with tainted products.
The project will initially focus on devising methods to quickly analyse milk powder and vegetable oil, two commodities that are particularly vulnerable to adulteration.
The FAO-IAEA project kicked off with a meeting in the Austrian capital, Vienna, last month and the first results are expected within the next two years.
The project will develop methods for using such hand-held devices to test food authenticity, including guidelines for analyses and a comprehensive database of authentic reference samples.
Uganda recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Rosatom, a Russian state-owned nuclear corporation on development of uranium into nuclear power for "peaceful purposes." Uganda has huge uranium deposits suitable for nuclear technology.
Surveys by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development show Uganda has about 52,000 square kilometres (sq km) of uranium deposits. Nuclear technology is also being used in some countries like Sudan for soil fertility enhancement.