April 04, 2013 -- A Scottish-based company is reaping the rewards of being in the front line of the UK's defences against food contamination following a period of unprecedented demand during the ongoing horsemeat scandal.
R-Biopharm Rhône, the manufacturer and Scotland's biggest exporter of diagnostic test kits, has seen both the number of tests it carries out and the number of kits it sells to other laboratories increase dramatically as companies scrambled to make sure their meat products were safe.
The Glasgow-based company has mobilised all its existing resources to meet the tremendous demands for its services. At the moment, customers are continuing to test daily, rather than the previous once or twice a year. It estimates that £100,000 has been added to turnover in the seven weeks of the crisis.
Victoria Jordan, R-Biopharm Rhône's UK product specialist (food and feed), said: "The rate of increase in demand is starting to slacken off slightly, but there is still a significant imperative to really ramp up food testing rates."
Ms Jordan said that the first inkling the company had of the impending dramatic increase in demand for its sector-leading expertise was on January 15, the day before the news broke that the Food Standards Agency had found beefburgers with traces of equine DNA.
She said: "A customer asked us to test for horse and we wondered: 'What do you know that we don't.' The next day it all became clear and the result was instantaneous. The number of samples we were handling increased a more than hundredfold straight away."
R-Biopharm Rhône's expertise lies in identifying species' DNA which, generally, remains in a product until the end of the food production chain, surviving the heat and the chemical elements within that process.
Customers can send samples to R-Biopharm Rhône for testing in its laboratory and it also sells kits so that labs can self-test. In normal circumstances, it would test around five samples a week, mostly for allergen testing. In the first days of the horse meat crisis, test requests soared to between 50 to 100 samples a day.
As the scandal developed, tens of millions of burgers were taken off the shelves by retailers including Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes Stores. Ms Jordan's team continued to receive boxes and boxes of them, though only a small sample is necessary for the testing process.
Virtually every big name in British food retailing became involved in precautionary measures, including Sainsbury's, Asda, Waitrose, the Co-op, Ikea and Burger King. As the crisis spread to Europe, the work-rate for Ms Jordan's team continued to increase.
She said: "Customers who previously bought one or two kits a year are now ordering 10 kits a day. The lab has responded magnificently and we have managed a three-day turnaround, which is of vital importance to customers."
Despite the impression resulting from the crisis that horsemeat or other species' contamination is omnipresent, Ms Jordan revealed that the scientific evidence actually points to a very different conclusion.
She said: "The percentage of samples which have showed any level of contamination is small. Out of nearly 500 samples we have dealt with so far, only 10 have tested positive."
The company, which is based in the West of Scotland Science Park in Glasgow, now employs 50 people, including 15 research and development scientists and is actively recruiting more scientists and production staff.
As the demand for testing for equine DNA eases, it is anticipating a sustained level of demand for identification of other forms, particularly porcine DNA.
For further information, contact Victoria Jordan, Product Specialist, R-Biopharm Rhone Ltd., Block 10, Todd Campus, West of Scotland Science Park, Acre Road, Glasgow, Scotland G20 0XA. Tel: +44 (0) 141 945 2924. Fax: +44 (0) 141 945 2925. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.r-biopharmrhone.com