Producers of cheeses, wines, deli meats and other culinary specialties in European countries are increasingly turning to technical methods to protect their products from counterfeiting. QR codes, invisible ink, microchips and nanotechnology are being used to protect a market valued at €80 billion a year.
The Parmesan Consortium seems to have found a new weapon in its never-ending fight against imitators and fakes. According to The Wall Street Journal, an edible microchip with a transponder is now attached to each circle of real Parmesan, which, using blockchain and other technologies, allows you to track the movement of the cheese and determine its current location, as well as learn its history up to the farm where the milk used in the production was produced. The QR code placed next to it already allows wholesalers and shops to check the authenticity of the cheese circle.
The experiment, according to the newspaper, lasts a year: cheesemakers want to make sure that American silicone chips can meet the requirements for aging cheese – from one to three years. Chip maker p-Chip says its products can survive extreme temperatures, data can be read through ice, and the chips themselves can withstand years of storage in liquid hydrogen. Besides, the chips seem to be harmless. During the tests, they were immersed in artificial gastric juice, and the chips, even after three weeks, did not emit any substances hazardous to health.
Cheese chipping may seem exotic, but only to outsiders.
Producers of so-called secure products see technology, if not the final solution, then at least a way to make it easier for manufacturers to fight against the numerous manufacturers of fakes and imitations.
Currently, more than 3.5 thousand products manufactured in the EU countries have the protected status. Some, such as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (aka the classic, so-called real Parmesan), Parma ham, cognac, champagne, prosecco or Greek feta, are well known. Others are less known. And this is Piran salt, hand-made in Slovenia, and Graciosa garlic – garlic from Graciosa, one of the Azores, and, finally, Polish Szydlov plums. Most protected products are Italian. They are followed by French and Spanish. According to the EU, the market for secure products is estimated at €80 billion a year. Considering that such products are sold at high prices (the same round of real Parmesan can, under certain conditions, cost €1,000), it is not surprising that they are primarily the object of copying, imitation, and forgery.
As lawyer Rita Tardiolo, who represents many associations of Italian food producers, including parmesan and prosecco, admits to The Wall Street Journal, there is no guarantee that the producers of authentic products will ever win. “Perhaps this is a situation that simply has no end,” she says. But, the producers say, this does not mean that they are ready to accept. “We are not giving up. We continue to fight with new methods,” says Alberto Pecorari, representative of the Association of Parmesan Producers.
Chips, though not as advanced, are also used by winemakers. They are put in a plastic cap, which is used to close the cork on a wine bottle. Winemakers also use invisible ink for bottle labels and engrave a unique serial number directly onto the bottle.
Microchips are not the only way to protect. Manufacturers actively and widely use QR codes to trace the history of a product and confirm its authenticity. There are also more unusual ways. For example, cheese producers in Europe are adopting the Swiss technology of lactic bacteria DNA fingerprinting, which easily determines from which milk the cheese was made.
Of course, there are no guarantees that technical protection measures cannot be overcome by attackers. After all, even the most expensive and serious types of protection for banknotes did not leave counterfeiters without work.
Nevertheless, experts say, manufacturers, using new methods, will at least make the work of imitators more expensive, and identifying fakes easier.
As for the edible chips from p-Chips, according to company representatives, the German drugmaker Merck will start using them in the very near future. Automakers are also waiting in line, looking for new and advanced ways to verify the authenticity of parts.
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