TRU-ID is Fighting Food Fraud

A growing number of health-conscious consumers are reading the labels before they toss products into their grocery carts. But too often, what’s inside a can or package doesn’t match the list of ingredients. TRU-ID wants to change that.

A slew of recent market studies show that mislabelling is rampant. In one, 60 per cent of fillets sold as red snapper were entirely different species. Another revealed that 30 per cent of Echinacea products had been cut with cheap filler. Meanwhile, horsemeat scandals in Europe have consumers eyeing burgers and meatballs with suspicion.

Whether it’s the result of accident or deliberate fraud, those statistics didn’t sit well with Drs. Steve Newmaster and Robert Hanner, both directors at the University of Guelph Centre for Biodiversity Genomics. “When you go buy something in the store, it should be what it says it is,” says Newmaster. “People were getting duped.”

Putting their heads together, the two taxonomists developed TRU-ID: an evaluation and certification program designed to keep consumer product labelling honest. In order for companies to use TRU-ID’s “certified authentic” logo on their packaging, their products must first pass rigorous DNA testing to verify that the ingredients match what’s on the label. After that, they’re subjected to annual audits.

As regulations tighten and more people demand assurances about what their eating, supply chain verification is becoming increasingly important. Similar to other certification bodies like Fair Trade, the Marine Stewardship Council and Canada Organic, TRU-ID builds consumer confidence while holding industry accountable.

But developing a certification system from scratch isn’t easy. Newmaster and Hanner had the scientific know-how. They carefully selected molecular diagnostic labs, screening them to ensure their test results were accurate. They put together a DNA reference library containing thousands of sequences of food products. What they were missing was the expertise to commercialize their idea. “We’re scientists and professors, we’re not in the business world,” says Newmaster.

That’s where Bioenterprise came in. As a leading agri-business accelerator, Bioenterprise helped TRU-ID develop accounting systems, marketing strategies and revenue models. They introduced Hanner and Newmaster to business advisors. And when TRU-ID needed space to meet with potential partners, Bioenterprise was happy to offer up their boardroom.

Today, Hanner and Newmaster are poised to crack down on mislabelling and make TRU-ID the new industry standard. “It provides the gold seal of authenticity for food and natural health products,” says Newmaster. “It’s very exciting and rewarding to make a difference.”


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