Brooks Brothers and others are using DNA testing to guarantee the authenticity of their products, reports Leslie Josephs in The Wall Street Journal (12/9/13). Starbucks is also using bar codes to verify the provenance of its beans. That’s because “coffee and cotton travel thousands of miles and trade hands dozens of times before they reach consumers in the form of dress shirts and espressos. The opportunities for mishaps are plentiful and worrisome, ranging from unscrupulous suppliers to shipping mixups.”
Marketers are subject to “substantial penalties if their goods aren’t certified, and it’s not exactly good for a brand to be found to be faking it, either. “If we put our logo on a bag, we absolutely have an obligation to certify what’s in that bag,” says Craig Russell, head of coffee at Starbucks. DNA testing reportedly provides the strongest possible proof. “DNA gives you that full length of precision that physical tests do not,” says MeiLin Wan of Applied DNA Sciences, a provider of testing services. Each test costs $500, however, and some feel that it’s cheaper simply to have experts examine the goods.
DNA testing of commodities actually “has its roots in a government directive. In November 2012, the US government started requiring the Defense Logistics Agency … to use only electronic microcircuits that were stamped with DNA, called SigNature DNA, made by Applied DNA Sciences.” A company called GeoCertify meanwhile tags beans at the farm level so they can be tracked all the way to their final destination. In 2013 it “has tagged 200,000 bags of Ethiopian coffee … up from 50,000 in 2012 and 12,000 in 2011, when it was running a pilot program, the company said.”